341 How How We Became Posthuman becomes us, man ... infinitesimally as an ever-morphing step function of jeans vs. genes still standing in the delta of sad tropics
... which is to say we're still hung on la idea de Ishi & brushing up on our spanish ... this taken from a historia by Álvaro Enrigue in Dalkey Archives' Best of Contemporary Mexican Fiction (which we talked about already in post #338). The gist being Ishi just means «man» in his language ... when you're the last of your kind, the generic suffices. Enrigue then says: «El problema con las historia de Ishi, estoy cada vez más seguro, es de literalidad: quiere decir lo que quiere decir y no lo que yo quiero que diga.»
The problem is a literal one of perspective, man.
The other piece that sticks out for us in the collection (besides the one by Cristina Rivera-Garza) is the one by Juan Villoro about a mariachi turned porn star obsessed w/ young women w/ white hair & that is afraid of horses & guns & has a smaller than average penis but makes up for it by eating tomatoes (which make his sperm taste better). But it's more about how he says it, the author.
We also finally finished reading Tristes Tropiques by Claude Lévi-Strauss (which we started talking about in the last post) ... not to be confused w/ Levi Strauss, the man responsible for genericizing the modern common man's wardrobe ...
Lévi-Strauss also anecdotally recounts the story of Ishi (tho he doesn't call him by name, man), but mostly he talks about the Amazonian tribes he shacked up w/ to study. What makes the Amazonian natives interesting is that they co-existed in isolated pockets—islands in the jungly sea—whose cultured traits independently demonstrate the evolution & range of human capacity, much like the Galapagos did w/ Darwin's finches. There's certain things that seem to evolve in virtually every self-organizing group of humans (such as an apparent need for war-mongering male leadership & shaman/seer/artist types), but it's the little intricacies & unique taboos that are what's fascinating ... & also the uncanny similarities between isolated South American cultures & Mexico or even Asia.
We already mentioned Lévi-Strauss & the Nambikwara people he studied in The derivative of Traveling w/ Derrida within the colonization of our own language—in particular about the Nambikwara not having a written language & having a strict taboo against saying a person's name out loud. On top of this, they intentionally distort words & have peculiar word-endings that deliberately obfuscate meaning & their language includes magic words that when added to nouns turn them into verbs that can be reversed on the fly w/ a negative particle ... much like the pidgin logic of Chinook jargon.
Some of his observations are downright hilarious (& bear a striking similarity to the swaggering antics of certain contemporary sub-cultures):
What Malabou concludes in the above linked-to book about Derrida is that everything he writes is travel writing. The same could be said about Lévi-Strauss. And perhaps the same could be said about us (though at this moment we are stationary) & Stanley Crawford (see below).
What makes Lévi-Strauss so interesting, is that thru his anthropological studies, he is always keenly aware of the importance of language (& gestures & posturing as communication). This he says in regards to people in a remote village he studied in Pakistan, who (at least the general population) lacked a writing system:
It's also worth nothing that the Roma have no formal writing system ... just saying. If you lack writing, you also lack accountability & can easily be marginalized (tho it's easier to fall under the radar of surveillance). The Nambikwara also didn't have a written language, but when the chief saw Lévi-Strauss writing, he asked for a pen & paper & then started drawing wavy asemic lines like this (compare w/ Mirtha Dermisache):
... not that Lévi-Strauss is a bigoted French fuck that thinks Europeans are superior. He speaks of a certain malaise the anthropologist feels after spending time abroad in such 'primitive' places & then returning home ... & he has the presence of mind to realize that as an anthropologist he not only gives up his right to judge other cultures, but he also must renounce the value system even of his own.
If you take a step back & think about it, modern things like our prison system & the death penalty could be perceived as more barbaric & primitive than, say, cannibalism.
In this past post about the meaning of primitive we're not sure we said everything we wanted to say on the subject ... there's a certain connection (at least in our minds) between the primitive & the unconscious. And in this modern (non-primitive) world it seems we've cashed in our shamanistic mythologies & art (derived from the collective unconscious) for hype-fed self-conscious pop with no other purpose but to advertise something, if even itself. When you create consciously, it becomes mere imitation ... like what the Nambikwara chief was scribbling. Not to belittle the chief, but it seems he's stuck in phase 2 (of the 4 psychological states that we talked about in the primer to our own The Becoming)—he is consciously incompetent. The verdict is out whether Mirtha Dermisache reached phase 4 (unconsciously competent) before recently passing ... perhaps the reader/viewer need also be in the same state of unconscious competence for it to be perceived as such. 99% of modern language (competent or not) is conscious gibberish, derivative of something heard or read ... little more than self-conscious mimicry ... copy-writing for advertising itself. Unlike the visual art world (where there is plenty of interest in primitive & abstract art derived from the unconscious), there seems to be little interest in unconscious language—language not even derived from thought but delving further back than that even, rivering from the deep disembodied recesses of our sourcing gene pool. We suspect this has something to do w/ the nature of language itself (as a shared resource/tool for practical communication & marketing) & people's general fear of being perceived as incompetent (if they don't use language in the accepted way that mimics the utilitarian & grammatically correct manner we use it for commerce & in quotidian exchanges).
Like us, Lévi-Strauss thinks we're all pretty much doomed to hell. «The world began without man and will end without him.» In the end, the human condition amounts only to exacerbating the entropy of this planet. Even more than 50 years ago he saw it coming.
Not to be grim.
Switching gears ... from Amazonian meatspace to The Internet (the you to whom this is addressed) ... the next book we started reading is How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature & Informatics by N. Katherine Hayles. ... interesting to jump into in contrast ... after Tristes Tropiques. Lévi-Strauss was keenly aware of the importance of differences & how cultural understanding often need be an incremental process. Your mind shuts down if the culture shock is too great. But we've been living in a time, for quite some time now, where nothing's shocking anymore.
There needs to be at least a semblance of familiarity to relate to it. «The search for the exotic boils down to the collecting of earlier or later phases of a familiar pattern of a development.» It's in the pattern, the evolution, where meaning lies. Although Lévi-Strauss lived to experience the Internet (he recently died in 2009), he, like any of us, would likely not have been able to fathom it all at once. We're not sure where we are going w/ this, but that's perhaps why we are pursuing it, this idea of the incremental differential, the delta.
Ideas such as evolution by natural selection or calculus of infinitesimals are perhaps baked-in assumptions to anyone born in this century, but at the time it must've taken a quantum leap (or tunnel) to understand them, let alone to come up w/ such ideas. But mankind didn't create these ideas, they already existed ... all we did is come up w/ language to define it in a way that allowed us to communicate it to other people. The first we learned of calculus it geeked our high school freshman head open. It didn't matter that we knew nothing of physics or other practical applications of calculus, it just seemed brilliant that someone (Leibniz, tho Newton still seems to get most of the credit) defined a pure language to articulate deeply recessed metaphysical inklings we couldn't put our finger on. Even as a kid we had sneaking suspicions about the atomicity of space-time & as our senses developed & became less granular it seemed we were being tricked into believing in the continuity of space-time, or the illusion of infinity. The idea of anything infinitely small or big seems absurd & herein lies the beauty of calculus because it acknowledges it as convenience so we can move on & expand on it ... stand on it's shoulders to expand the visible horizon. And it made us feel less alone knowing we aren't the only ones that think this way.
There's a beauty to calculus that lies in the stacking differentials ... summing them up under the curve. So when we hear people like Lévi-Strauss talk or Hayles talk about differentials in the context of anthropology or cybernetics, we can't help but to want to overlay variables of calculus to help us better understand. Difference is what defines information ... meaningful difference. And in art it's not enough to just be different, you have to be different in a way that makes a difference.
Information packages (such as writings) that are too far a field—outliers that fall outside of the normalized curve—don't get readily assimilated into the data flow coursing thru the general population. And information that is not so different than already existing packaged bits only serves to redundantly bloat us from the inside out & doesn't serve to expand the sum under the curve, to propel it ahead of the curve. In terms of story-telling, this is where the importance of narrative fits in ... narrative is the gluey thread, the timeline of personal history wherein we can package information (hopefully meaningfully different) into digestible bits that fit under the propelling curve. And upon reading, the packages become unzipped & assimilated & recapitulated into & thru the readers information flow.
It's been a while since we've had cause to update our other blog—Goat Rodeo—but ends up scientists have spliced spider genes into goats so that when you milk them you get silk ... wrap your head around that ... spider-goats.
We're still not sure anybody (especially embedded in this current day & age) can wrap their head around what the Internet is doing to our brains (tho Nicholas Carr has given it a good try). Seems a nonsensical contradiction to even try to understand our brain while we are in the process of using it ... one gets stuck in a feedback loop, like dividing by zero. This is for later generations or other species to figure out. But nevertheless, N. Katherine Hayles gives it the college try. More generally, she investigates our disembodiment—how we are shedding our skins in this virtual information age.
She dives in w/ the usual suspects—Turing, Shannon (speaking of entropy) & Weiner, w/ a lot of overlap w/ Gleick's The Information, which we recently read as we left Rome ... & Gödel, Calvino, Hofstadter, etc. & the importance of feedback loops (which we talk about more here) & the boot-strapping idea of reflexivity (the movement whereby that which has been used to generate a system is made, through a changed perspective, to become part of the system it generates). The way out of the head-banging reflexivity conundrum is to shed our bodies ... to think of ourselves as formless & egoless conduits thru which information passes.
She brings in the idea (from anthropology) of a skeuomorph, a design feature that is no longer functional in itself but that refers back to a feature that was functional at an earlier time (for example, using an envelope icon for a compose email button even tho we've long since given up using physical envelopes to send mail) ... speaking of anthropologic differential crutches to keep the mind from being blown, to help us try to understand something using a familiar analogy, like teaching a Nambikwara indian about The Internet by comparing it to The Amazon basin & making a search query tool that resembles their bows & arrows.
The original intent of the skeuomorph was to alleviate future shock, but since nothing's shocking, now skeuomorphs more often than not are purely for nostalgic kitsch.
What makes the Hayles book interesting (so far ... we're not even halfway thru it) is that not only does she reel in lots of examples from literature (from Gibson's Neuromancer, which we haven't read, to Don Delillo & William Burroughs) but she also thinks of our bodies as no different than book objects (or alternatively, of books or our bodies as 'data made flesh'):
... thinking of literature & information as not only the difference between pattern & randomness but presence & absence (a nod no doubt to Derrida & deconstruction). In fact, we recently posted a page from our brother's found journals, where he scribbled: «the concept of absence in a life packed full of presence (of experience) is a slippery term to define» & we weren't sure whether this was an idea of his or whether he was quoting somebody else, but now come to think of it it was likely in regards to Derrida.
This is on our mind as this is what we've personally been working on, framing the writings of our brother & his 'SSES" 'SSES" thesis into a digestible format, into a narrative that isn't too much of a stretch for people to grasp. So for example, here's a draft of the page linked to above in the framed narrative of our own 'SSES" 'SSES" "SSEY' (& by 'our own,' we mean Chaulky):
Reading Hayles books is helping to shape our thinking not only in how to present our brother's book, but also book design in general. For there's two types of information— there's pure «selective» information, text, & then there's the supporting «structural» information that tells us how to interpret a text—metadata.
In other Calamari news, here's the official trailer for Niceties, made by Elizabeth Mikesch herself:
& also finished the edits to Stanley Crawford's Travel Notes (thanks to DW ... coincidentally the same initials as us) & made the back cover (using a photo of Crawford by R. Wilton that also appeared on the back of the original 1967 version):
Here's a sentence from Travel Notes that ties in w/ what we (&/or Hayles) were saying above about the reflexive embodiment of books:
& related to the Nambikwara taboo of saying a person's name out loud for fear it would in essence wipe them out, there's a guy in Travel Notes (a linguist/porter) who invents a word, but can never speak it out loud for fear that whatever the word stood for would disintegrate upon being used. Since he never speaks or writes the word, he eventually forgets, or represses it.
What else ... all sorts of petty drama in the lit world not even worth mentioning ... wannabe vanguard types behaving like gossip-mongering grade schoolers ... guess that's what it takes to be 'most popular' ... & lots of Thumpering chatter lately about snark & smarm & negative criticism ... personally we wouldn't care less, but we are amidst sending books out for review & it all seems so silly & Disneyfied... want to put a bullet thru the ears of the next person who says «if you can't say something nice, don't say nothing at all» ... tho, logically, 'not saying nothing' = 'saying something'. And in this case being anti-negative is not mathematically positive, but twice as negative ... you become so mired in hypocrisy that you can't rise from the muck to make rhyme or reason & take in any meaningful differences of view from the collective information flow. You can't trust the opinion of someone who thinks everything is 'good' (this becomes the equivalent of advertising, not criticism) ... the constructive concept of presence only exists w/ the deconstructed notion of absence ...
«I'm thankful for showers» is almost as good as «Messy, isn't it?» ... in regards to famous last words ... especially in the meteor-showering wake of the recent sun-grazing comet passing.
Saw The Breeders last night ... we showed up late & they actually started on time so we only saw the last 2-3 songs they played, from Last Splash (which evidently they were playing in it's entirety). Thankfully they came back out & played all of Pod (our favorite album of theirs) as an encore. We saw them in the early 90s & before the show we ran into them sitting at a nearby bar & we sat & chatted & there was a certain earnest & genuine sincerity to them that was refreshing ... & they seem to still have it, at least as far as it comes thru in their music ... all you hear about lately in regards to Kim Deal is that she left the Pixies ... but fuck the Pixies & Frank Black (speaking of gossip-mongering grade school bitches), always thought The Breeders were better than Pixies ever were & whatever was decent about Pixies is likely attributable to Deal.
Since we came back from London it has been cold & snowy & now as xmas is approaching it's downright balmy—a tropical 70 degrees. Speaking of differentials over time, we leave you w/ a view out our window as it's changed over the past fortnight or so:
While travel has its merits, there's something to be said about sitting in one place & watching a landscape change over time ...
|> 342 > Trout Fishing in Patagonia to Voodoo Chile & volcano meat|