Language Machine Language
Language Machine Language: part 1 of 3 excerpted from the Consciousness
[The Consciousness Reframed listserve was an internet based discussion
forum for artists, theorists and others associated with the
Consciousness Reframed conference at Newport, Wales, UK. The conference
was called by Roy Ascott, Professor of New media at the Gwent College of
Art, to discuss the impact of new technologies on notions of self and
Joseph Nechvatal wrote: "Attention to the role of Dionysiac wisdom of
the body in the processes of human communication and how it generates
the very basis of our theories and interpretations must become an
intrinsic aspect of our understanding of human communication.
Imagination is the most secret of psychological and cosmic powers."
Simon Biggs wrote: Perhaps art is Dionysian, or then again
Erosian/Erotic. This has long been a debate. I sometimes wonder, as none
of this debate has ever come to anything, no matter how attractive these
metaphors are, whether they have any value to the subject under
Sure art=sex, and sex=art (cooking=art=sex=cooking=sex=art=cooking is
also a sustainable equation). But trying to find a dialectic in this may
Joseph Nechvatal wrote: "Art's erotic function links it to the social
aspect of people's lifeworlds; for in the very pleasure of playing with
expression in and for itself lies the beginning of the social function
of art. Eros is the inescapable foundation of communications. Burke's
explorations of the body's underworld in his chapters on the 'Thinking
of the Body' and 'Somnia ad Urinandum' in "Language as Symbolic Action"
establish art's relevance to the humbler excretory parts of the body and
examines the flow of words as a diuresis: for Eros, as the motivator of
communication, has 'pitched his mansion in the place of excrement.'"
Simon Biggs wrote: I am unfamiliar with Burke's theories which leaves me
at a disadvantage on this aspect of your argument. However, your
reference to "art's relevance to the humbler excretory parts of the
body" could be taken both in the Greenbergian form (artists playing with
coloured shit) or extended to encompass Melanie Klein's observations on
early childhood behaviour (artists playing with their own shit) and
notions of expression and statements of control and ownership.
This last point tends to dispel further the applicability of the
Dionysian or Ero(s/tic) metaphors, replacing it with a demand for a
post-Freudian/Foucaultian approach to the subject, where we focus on the
means of production/exchange (the shit) as an expression of the totemic
(a reference to other lower body parts) will to power (OK, Nietzche gets
a look in too).
Bill Seaman wrote: "Computers present an artistic medium which heightens
the potential for an intermingling of the knowledge of the viewer with
the 're-embodied intelligence' of an author. Given that computers can
house 'recombinant' digital elements of image, sound, and text, how can
the artist become an 'author' of responsive, self regulating systems
which enable 'intelligent' emergent poetic responses to viewer
interactivity via the application of models of poetic construction?"
Simon Biggs wrote: Isn't it rather the case that the computer offers, as
a general purpose artifact, an interesting model of how we (or at least
a dominant social perception) wish to see ourselves at this time, in our
current historical circumstances. As such an artifact the artist is thus
able to employ it as a proxy of the portrait, and thus of the self. It
is able to function therefore, as a sustainable illusion, as the
Bill Seaman wrote: "In terms of the input of the viewer, in
computer-mediated artworks, we are moving in the direction of the
computer functioning as a 'sensing' and 'responding' device."
Simon Biggs wrote: In its very definition this is what the computer is.
People forget Turing...the computer is the machine that can be any
machine; it is this because it is a virtual machine, a symbolic machine,
a language machine. It is reprogrammable, redefinable and recursive. As
a language machine it is therefore, in its very essence, interactive and
responsive. The computer is not really a machine at all. It is an
"idea", concerned with how to organise basic processes in a symbolic
form that can then interact with the world as if they were the thing
they are a model of.
Bill Seaman wrote: "The computer enables communication/expression via
the transfer of an encoded energy state."
Simon Biggs wrote: I wonder what you mean by energy here? Are you using
it in a vague semi-mystical or pseudo-scientific sense, or do you mean
it in the more precise terms as outlined in the various "laws" of
Bill Seaman wrote: "'Symbolic logic' is the encoding of logic."
Simon Biggs wrote: All logic is ultimately a linguistic process, and
thus all logic is symbolic. In fact, anything that is encoded is
symbolic, regardless of whether it is isomorphic or not.
Bill Seaman wrote: "'Mapping' and 'modelling' also abstracts and encodes
Simon Biggs wrote: Mapping and modelling are quite different things.
Mapping seeks to be isomorphic to its "significant" whilst modelling
might be isomorphic but does not need to be. A model can function quite
well as a metaphoric rather than isomorphic structure.
Bill Seaman wrote: "I am thinking about a body being in the vicinity of
a technology which enables a particular circulation of states
surrounding a set of poetic elements/behaviours which have been
'entered' into the system via encoding, mapping and modelling."
Simon Biggs wrote: I think here you are encountering a fundamental gap
between technologies and their social use. Poetry is less to do with
encoding (with the production of meaning) and a lot more to do with the
suspension of meaning...the creation of a space where language loses a
lot of its definition such that new connections, previously unimagined
linguistic dimensions, are opened up. As such, poetry is probably more
concerned with the destruction rather than the creation of meaning.
Opposed to this is the idea of encoding, where the objective is not the
production of meaning but of a map or isomorph of a particular
phenomena. Yes, in the process we have rendered the phenomena, whatever
its origin, as linguistic, and in this process, probably inadvertently,
we have ascribed meaning to it (all language, even the most abstract, is
based on metaphor). Nevertheless, this process is quite distinct from
that of the poetic.
To model the "poetic" seems a pretty crazy idea. Here we have a human
process, called poetry, intended to release meaning by releasing the
processes of interpretaion from the strictures of coded (linguistic)
systems...and you are suggesting that we use a coded linguistic system
to reconstruct this process. Interesting proposition. Do you think it is
possible? Do you think it is desirable?
Like you Bill, my own work has a lot to do with self-generative
language...but I have been very careful to keep my modelling strictly to
the processes of language itself, not to apply it to the processes of
reading or writing, to the processes of creation. So, when facing the
question of how to make such systems "meaningful", that is, both
meaningful as a distinct artifact and also meaningful in that the
artifact seems capable of producing meaning, I have been careful that
any tertiary meaning (meaning emerging from the actions of the system,
in interaction with the reader) is purely a function of the processes
embedded in language itself. This means avoiding semiosis (with its
implications of intent, and thus authorship) and looking instead at the
manner in which language can be, as a machine in its own right,
So, out of this emerges what appears to be meaning...but in fact it is
just an illusion. There is no meaning, simply patterns of redundancy. Of
course, the reader reads meaning into this, as the process mimics the
production of meaning, even whilst it is nothing more than a dumb
machine following formal rules.
This is modelling, nothing more. In the end it says more about the
limits of our perceptual capabilities (as readers) than about that which
we perceive and seek to give meaning to.