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September 30, 1999

My father is an artist, and fond of saying unexpected pithy things out of the blue (when he isn't saying something silly which I then find myself obliged to argue with...although at such times one can never be certain he is actually serious. He likes to play at that, too). He once said to me, pointing in front of him, "Suppose this is the most logical or rational direction to take." (By this he meant: in life.) He then shifted the direction he was indicating by five degrees or so. "The best course, however, is usually just a little bit off."

Alfabette zoope.

September 28, 1999

I think it is natural to think of emptiness or nothingness as symmetrical and void, the complement or inverse of being. But perhaps it is better to think of nothingness as not as featureless as one would first imagine; similarly, perhaps being is not as heavy as it at first appears.

Somewhat tangential to the subject of being and nothingness.

All of which reminds me of something completely different: the vast quantum mechanical energy which permeates even a vacuum, and speculation about tapping into it.

September 27, 1999

Heather Anne was very kind to mention me on her delightful and fascinating site which, as I mentioned in my first entry, was one of my chief inspirations to start this.

What is the relationship between constraints and creativity? I read an article a few years ago about the relative lack of productivity of artists and scholars awarded fellowships by the Getty Research Institute; these prominent personalities are given everything one would think they would need to be productive: money, a place to live and work, pleasant surroundings, weekly social gatherings with the other Fellows, and no distractions. Curiously, comparatively little work seems to emerge from those who participate in the program. Perhaps artists do not thrive when they are given everything they think they would need?

Ironically, the odd legacy of J. Paul Getty has produced a complementary example as well. (I say odd because Getty seemed to be fond of collecting an eccentric mishmash of art objects which one gets to witness thrown together at his museums). The (new) Getty Center was designed by the architect Richard Meier, and though it has been controversial (many people totally detest it), there is no question that Meier put a lot of careful thought into its design. Though I can't say that looking at it from a distance is particularly inspiring, there is no question that walking through the building is a rich experience. Clearly, Meier spends a lot of time thinking about how people actually move through and use his spaces; and he carefully designs the experience to work at the human scale. Traversing the buildings, you are rewarded with a series of unexpected vistas of other parts of the structure or of Los Angeles (though I grew up in L.A. I never particularly thought of it as having the capacity to produce vistas until I visited the Getty Center). He thinks carefully about how museum patrons would want to experience the collection, moving through it section by section, and so he divides up the space into several smaller buildings, rather than creating a huge monolith. In this case, the reason to visit this museum is to experience and use the building itself.

But what's particularly interesting about Meier is that he is famous for making all of his buildings either white or off-white; he is also famous for being absolutely particular about lining everything up perfectly; every block of stone is lined up on a perfect grid, and even the very layout of the tables in the cafeteria are placed in a rectilinear layout. He consciously limits certain variables so that he can focus on optimizing many others.

September 25, 1999

So, to elaborate on yesterday's note. I went with Susan to a book reading by Susie Bright (currently on tour promoting her new book, Full Exposure) at the downtown SF Stacey's bookstore. Susan had a professional interest in the reading, since she recently got a gig writing her personals advice column for Willamette Week, the Portland alternative weekly (they ran an ad in the newspaper for the job, and she submitted an application on a lark, thinking her chances of being picked were something close to that of winning the lottery, but much to her surprise...)

Susie Bright is, of course, famous for her frank and down-to-earth writing on the subject of sexuality. While she spoke in her charming, sensible, and relaxed way about a topic that still confounds many of us, I found myself thinking about the various unresolved questions and issues I have about sexuality (questions about monogamy, jealousy, shame, and other things) which I have placed on the back burner of my consciousness for years. It seemed easier to confront these things while listening to her speak.

I also heard Ed Osborn give a talk and presentation about his audio installation pieces. I found it most interesting that he thinks primarily in terms of systems (both physical and social), rather than isolated objects. Much of his work involves the construction of systems, interactive and otherwise, with an aural emphasis (though he claims he doesn't focus on the visual impact of his work, it is often visually interesting). He feels the art world tends to focus on objects which is an easier paradigm for them to deal with, because it is easier to buy and sell objects than systems with moving parts, etc.

I asked whether he thought there was a relationship between his emphasis on systems and the fact that he works with sound; he said he started as a composer, and in music one deals with systems all the time: even a single musical instrument is a system. Furthermore, the process of getting a piece performed is complex and involves dealing with social and political systems.

Which reminded me of a very funny passage from Frank Zappa's autobiography in which he discusses all of the trials and tribulations he had to go through to get the London Symphony Orchestra to perform his classical compositions, as well as his great rant regarding the sad state of the music industry today, how experimental work is almost impossible to get published, and his views of the social and political reasons why.

September 24, 1999

I got my first incoming link from one of my favorite weblogs, Alamut! Thanks very much, that made my day.

Had a very interesting time today, first at a book reading by Susie Bright in SF, and later on at an engaging talk (at the mysterious Interval Research) by Ed Osborn, an installation artist who specializes in sound spaces. Still in travel mode, will post more about this very soon.

September 23, 1999

Went to an entertaining benefit book reading/panel discussion/party for the Independent Publishing Resource Center of Portland, Oregon. The event was sponsored by, K Records, and Reading Frenzy (an excellent zine and book shop), with panelists from Hip Mama (publishers of entertainment and resources for mothers), BUST (the "voice of the new girl order"), and Danzine (a zine and collective for exotic dancers). I actually had little idea what the event was about (I was invited by a friend, Mim), I just thought it was going to be a book reading of some kind, but it turned out to be a lively event organized by (mostly) enthusiastic twenty-something women primarily for women, though there were a few other men besides me (I didn't feel out of place). The panel discussion was quite interesting. Those who were active on the Web were quite excited about the possibilities of Web self-publication (I agreed with them there). They have already had significant success so far.

One of the more interesting and amusing items I picked up was a poster by an Olympia artist, Amber Bell, who unlike the panelists has neither email nor a Web site, but anyone who is interested is encouraged to email me and I will send you her contact information. I bought this "blueprint" poster from her, which she agreed to let me put up here as a sample of her work. architectural crimes

I'm off to the Bay Area for a week and a half.

September 22, 1999

Bought The Matrix DVD today. Yes, I couldn't resist. It looks and sounds absolutely fantastic on my laptop DVD drive (the drive was a $50 option and well worth it) and on the TV via the S-Video cable.

In honor of my Baudrillard rant yesterday, I will mention that Simulacra and Simulation is featured in an early scene of The Matrix (it's the hollowed-out book from which Neo grabs the illicit computer disc), open to the chapter "On Nihilism."

Okay. As of this writing, it isn't actually September 22 yet. Which reminds me of an acquaintance who used to get The New York Times delivered on the West Coast in the late evenings, before the date printed on the paper (by that time on the West Coast the New York Times had already been put to bed). Reading tomorrow's news today makes one feel a tad like Doctor Who.

September 21, 1999

I like to eat Sweet Tarts while watching movies, yet many theatres fail to stock them. Perhaps it's because they are cheap and long-lasting, and don't go well with the absurdly overpriced movie theater popcorn ($3 for a bucket full of mostly air?)

Had a conversation on the following subject while eating lunch on the deck: Like many, I find Baudrillard ever-fascinating, insightful, and funny. But I wonder if he fails to mention (perhaps on purpose) some things regarding the precession of simulacra? He seems to be saying that not only have we entered an age where it is understood that the map is not the territory, but in fact we now have only maps: simulacra which live entirely within their own terms, no longer referring to a basic reality.

However, it occurred to me that even if we accept this picture, we still have an image of simulacra which are not closed, nor are they self-contained, and they are fragile. They are not closed: there is always an element of the unknown (and unknowable) about them, and thus always an element of surprise---the unexpected (a sign that is not in the system of signs within the simulacrum) could appear (if you are paying attention) and suddenly there can be the opportunity for a break, a crack in the shell, through which the infinite could pour in, unbidden. You look up and something disturbing and uninvited tells you that you may be dreaming: you realize there is a larger world. Of course this larger world is itself not the real, but just another simulacrum, but because of these moments of apparent transcendence we create the myth of the real. You can never wake up to the real, but you can never be sure when you might be induced to engage in the gesture of waking up: a gesture that can repeat without limit. This gesture destroys the old simulacrum and replaces it with a larger one which includes the old one as a sort of toy. It seems to me that it is for this reason we have invented the distinction between the map and the territory: even though all we have is the replacement of one simulacrum for another, as each one shatters in turn.

September 20, 1999

Currents of the postmodern in premodern Japan.

I want to argue for the development of a new architecture, one which transcends the usual categories of "art" and "engineering" (and does not merely juxtapose the two, or try to find the one in the other, as in "the art of engineering" or the "science of art"), and which, in the spirit of the architect Christopher Alexander, attempts to balance seemingly incommensurable forces in elegant ways, applied to design problems in a wide variety of fields. Maybe this isn't new at all, but is just what architecture was always about, or at least could have always been about.

September 18, 1999

Observed while helping Emily buy her new VCR: Sony has finally found the antidote for the History Eraser Button... the "Reality Regenerator".

Speaking of which, my friend Doug has a theory that he is never going to die (subjectively). He came up with a story to illustrate this idea which he called Feynman's Last Experiment. The notion is that Richard Feynman (dying of cancer at the time Doug thought of this), on his deathbed, would come up with an experiment to determine if Everett was right in his Many-Worlds Interpretation of quantum mechanics, a theory which states (roughly) that everything that can happen, does, in some universe. If Everett was right, there was a universe in which Feynman never dies. So, as a final experiment (which, alas, only Feynman could observe), he would simply wait to see if he would somehow miraculously survive...

Interestingly, after Feynman had died, Doug heard a rumor that in fact, near death, the great physicist had said "Now I'll find out if Everett was right..."

Even if some mad scientist does blow up the world (or if some high-energy physics experiment destroys the universe---scroll halfway down or search for "destroy the universe"), some universes would survive. So, if some mysterious event (an explosion, then a power failure, then...) repeatedly stops a new high-energy experiment from commencing...

Interesting interview with poststructural philosopher Mark C. Taylor. A bit difficult to read in Web form; it seems they reproduced the print layout exactly, which doesn't make for a comfortable online experience. However, the content is worth a look.

I am deeply indebted to Heather Anne Halpert for inspiring me with her myriad connections...