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 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

«Como quiera que sea, el cuento del hombre que se gana la vida en calidad de pieza de museo siempre me pareció fascinante y revelador, más por el hecho conmovedor de que, con todo y que hizo buenos y al parecer sinceros amigos entre la comunidad de médicos y antropólogos que lo estudiaron, el indio nunca les quiso decir su verdadero nombre. Hasta el último día de su vida siempre pidió que lo llamaran Ishi, que en yahna decir "hombre": al parecer, cuando se es el último de lo que sea, el género basta.»

... 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.

don't pee on my rug man

the one-of-a-kind dude abiding

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 ...

Levis Indian Lore

Levi's ad from the good ol' days

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.

Hopewell art

Hopewell art (where «Hopewell» refers to the Eastern Native American diaspora)

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):

«A Nambikwara Indian expresses dislike by grasping his penis in both hands and pointing it towards his opponent. This gesture is followed by an assault on that person, the aim being to pull off the tuft of buriti straw attached to the front of the belt above the genitals. These 'are hidden by the straw', and 'the object of the fight is to pull off the straw'.The action is purely symbolical, because the genital covering of the male is made of such flimsy material and is so insubstantial that it neither affords protection nor conceals the organs. [...] The scuffles may sometimes degenerate into a free-for-all, but on this occasion the fighting subsided at dawn. Still in the same state of visible irritation and with gestures that were anything but gentle, the two sets of opponents then set about examining each other, fingering their ear pendants, cotton bracelets and little feather ornaments, and muttering a series of rapid comments, such as 'Give it ... give it ... see, that's pretty,' while the owner would protest, 'It's ugly ... old ... damaged!»

Sleeping Nambikwara Levi-Strauss

body language of sleeping Nambikwara (photo by Lévi-Strauss)

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:

«Writing is a strange invention. One might suppose that its emergence could not fail to bring about profound changes in the condition of human existence, and that these transformations must of necessity be of an intellectual nature. The possession of writing vastly increases man's ability to preserve knowledge. It can be thought of as an artificial memory, the development of which ought to lead to a clearer awareness of the past, and hence to a greater ability to organize both the present and the future. After eliminating all other criteria which have been put forward to distinguish between barbarism and civilization, it is tempting to retain this one at least: there are peoples with, or without, writing; the former are able to store up their past achievements and to move with ever-increasing rapidity towards the goal they have set themselves, whereas the latter, being incapable of remembering the past beyond the narrow margin of individual memory, seem bound to remain imprisoned in a fluctuating history which will always lack both a beginning and any lasting awareness of an aim.»

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):

Nambikwara writingNambikwara writing

Nambikwara writing (left) & work by Argentinian artist Mirtha Dermisache (right—from Libro n°8, 1970)

«He was half taken in by his own make-believe; each time he completed a line, he examined it anxiously as if expecting the meaning to leap from the page, and the same look of disappointment came over his face. But he never admitted this, and there was a tacit understanding between us to the effect that his unintelligible scribbling had a meaning which I pretended to decipher; his verbal commentary followed almost at once, relieving me of the need to ask for explanations.»

... 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.

«Conversely, the detachment to which he is constrained by moral scrupulousness and scientific accuracy prevents him from criticizing his own society, since he is refraining from judging any one society in order to acquire knowledge of them all. Action within one's own society precludes understanding of other societies, but a thirst for universal understanding involves renouncing all possibility of reform.»

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).

Roy Lichtenstein—Drowning Girl

Drowning Girl (1963)

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.

«From the time when he first began to breathe and eat, up to the invention of atomic and thermonuclear devices, by way of discovery of fire—and except when he has been engaged in self-reproduction—what else has man done except blithely break down billions of structures and reduce them to a state in which they are no longer capable of integration? No doubt he has built towns and cultivated the land; yet, on reflection, urbanization and agriculture are themselves instruments intended to create inertia, at a rate and in proportion infinitely higher than the amount of organization they involved. As for the creations of the human mind, their significance only exists in relation to it, and they will merge into the general chaos, as soon as the human mind has disappeared. Thus it is that civilization, taken as a whole, can be described as an extraordinary complex mechanism, which we might be tempted to see as offering an opportunity of survival for the human world, if its function were not to produce what physicists call entropy, that is inertia. Every verbal exchange, every line printed, establishes communication between people, thus creating an evenness of level, where before there was an information gap and consequently a greater degree of organization. Anthropology could with advantage be changed into 'entropology', as the name of the discipline concerned with the study of the highest manifestations of this process of disintegration.»

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.

Nothing's Shocking

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.

Riemann Sum

Reimann sum as skeuomorph to calculus

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.

Donnie Darky watery flow

the flow as characterized by Donnie Darko

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.

«From this formulation, it was a small step to think of information as a kind of bodiless fluid that could flow between different substrates without loss of meaning or form.»

eggy body without organs

the eggy BwO scrambled à la D&G—tiny differentiations in the developing egg

designate major differences in the final creature

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.

How We Became Posthuman by Hayles

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.

Amazon as skeumorph

the new Amazon itself as a skeuomorph

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'):

«The contemporary pressure toward dematerialization, understood as an epistemic shift toward pattern/randomness and away from presence/ absence, affects human and textual bodies on two levels at once, as a change in the body (the material substrate) and as a change in the message (the codes of representation).»

... 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):

Stanley Crawford

Here's a sentence from Travel Notes that ties in w/ what we (&/or Hayles) were saying above about the reflexive embodiment of books:

«Books, probably, the suitcases were things which contained books, whereas most books contained things, which brought up the interesting question of whether there was a book which was also a thing, and a thing which was a book—inseparably, which contained no other thing but itself.»

& 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 ...

circuit flow

in order for flow, there need be positive & negative terminals ...

otherwise we're living in stagnant dark ages w/ no new idea generation

«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:

December time lapse

While travel has its merits, there's something to be said about sitting in one place & watching a landscape change over time ...

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