The Horror of Google Street View

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Jon Rafman, BR-265, Barbacena, Minas Gerais, Brazil, (2012). Archival pigment print on aluminium. Seventeen Gallery.

It is not a good opening paragraph, as opening paragraphs go: 

A friend of mine showed me how to use Google Maps. I'm sure you've seen it. It lets you use satellite images to look at locations all over the world. A few years ago, I was in a car accident.

Besides unnecessarily explaining Google Maps, "Satellite Images" begins by executing exposition with brutality and an utter disregard for the show-don't-tell "rule." But this is creepypasta, an authorless horror story from the bowels of the internet. A kind of new iteration of the urban legend, with the internet as its city, creepypasta generally takes the form of as FOAFlore (ie friend-of-a-friend lore), comments on a forum, or a final, strangled pleading blogpost, posing as authentic testimony rather than fiction. The genre thrives on anonymity and slipshod writing, both of which boost the stories' presumed veracity. Will Wiles describes the genre as having "an eerie air of having arisen from nowhere... a networked effort to deliver dread in as efficient a way as possible." 

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To Program a Prose Machine

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Nanni Balestrini, Tristano, copy #10750 (Verso, 2014).

In order to program a poetry machine, one would first have to repeat the entire Universe from the beginning—or at least a good piece of it.

— Stanislaw Lem [1]

"All directions are of equal importance." This is the second sentence in the second paragraph on page 88 of my copy of Nanni Balestrini's 1966 novel Tristano, #10750. You cannot read this novel, unless I lend it to you, as each of the 10,000 copies Verso publish this month contain different iterations of the same text.

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Jed Martin's Charmed Career

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Michel Houllebecq's novel The Map and the Territory (La carte et le territoire) is a future art history of the French artist Jed Martin. Martin's output is both limited and clinical: he desires, above all, to "give an objective description of the world" (27), and he creates a body of work consisting of four series made throughout his life.

Aside from the drawings produced in his youth, Martin’s first work was the series “Three Hundred Photos of Hardware.” “Avoiding emphasis on the shininess of the metals and the menacing nature of the forms, Jed had used a neutral lighting, with few contrasts, and photographed articles of hardware against a background of mid-gray velvet. Nuts, bolts, and adjusting knobs appeared like so many jewels, gleaming discreetly” (26). The series appears to be an extension of a previous project, undertaken in his high school bedroom with mostly natural light, to create “an exhaustive catalogue of the objects of human manufacturing in the Industrial Age” (20). Martin has difficulty articulating his project, and his artist's statement emphasizes the advanced aluminum engineering responsible for creating most industrial objects. It's the work Andreas Gursky would have made taking pictures of single objects.

While claiming to be done with photography, Martin’s next series returns to his technical facility with the medium. Enthralled by the beauty of Michelin Departments road maps, Martin experiences a mild attack of Stendhal syndrome after unfolding a map of the Creuse and Haute-Vienne: “This map was sublime. Overcome, he began to tremble in front of the food display. Never had he contemplated an object as magnificent, as rich in emotion and meaning” (28). The Michelin series consisted of over eight hundred photographs and was responsible for Martin’s first major show, sponsored by Michelin, titled “THE MAP IS MORE INTERESTING THAN THE TERRITORY.”

Martin’s work fits easily into a certain popular narrative of contemporary art: conceptual enough to make critics giddy, effortless enough to affirm a naysayer’s belief in the overwhelming bullshit of the gallery, and relevant without being topical. Most importantly, it's never outside complex contemporary fiscal systems: art remains a good investment. These are precisely the qualities them so believable as artworks, so easy to imagine. It is what separates the novel so completely from other narratives of faux-artworks, with their gaudy, impossibly transcendent works of beauty.

David Hockney, Mr. and Mrs. Clark Percy (1970)

Martin’s next aesthetic endeavor took him into the world of painting: his collection of sixty-five oil paintings, collectively known as the “Professions” series, depicted the various modes of employ which form a functioning society. Martin creates another taxonomy, this time a human taxonomy: with subjects ranging from Maya Dubois, Remote Maintenance Assistant to Bill Gates and Steve Jobs Discussing the Future of Information Technology (subtitled The Conversation at Palo Alto). The portrait of Gates and Jobs is considered his most essential work: Martin gives “a magical glow to the forests of California pine descending toward the sea” (72). (Eventually, Steve Jobs up bought the painting for $2 million).

The Chinese essayist Wong Fu Xin maintains that Martin’s paintings from this period, which can be broken into the Series of Simple Professions and the Series of Business Compositions, represent the minimum number of professions required to recreate the productive conditions of society: they “give a relational and dialectical image of the functioning of the economy as a whole” (73). When unable to complete the final painting of the series, Damien Hirst and Jeff Koons Dividing Up the Art Market, Martin destroyed it. His final painting is one of Houellebecq, which he presents to the writer as a gift.

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"Go to bed, Tao Lin."

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I thought we could either gchat, then edit later, or meet in person and transcribe whatever happens w/o editing (including things like ["long pause"] and "[nervously laughs]." I think I kind of prefer the 2nd.

So began my interaction with author Tao Lin, a young author known as much for his self-promotional antics as for his several published novels. I wanted to interview Lin about his experiences with a popular image board called 4chan, known for being a playground for internet trolls and the birthplace of the "hacktivist" collective known as Anonymous. 4chan is a place where thousands of people gather for cheap thrills: porn, gore, and spontaneous collaborative pranks that range from harmlessly goofy to insidiously dangerous. 4chan trolls go after religious cults, white supremacists, scam artists, pedophiles, and animal abusers. They also seem to hate Tao Lin. I wanted to know why.

4chan is a collection of image boards that allows users to anonymously post messages that disappear quickly unless they contain content that inspires others to respond. It is marked by the presence of a geeky, insular cultural currency of internet-borne ephemera which we've now decided to collectively call "memes." For the most part, 4chan's users just want to kill time shooting the shit with other geeks. They talk about anime, mecha, papercraft and other mostly-geeky topics. I've been hanging out on 4chan pretty regularly since 2007—it's a fascinating Darwinian "meme-pool," from which much of internet culture derives. I wrote a book about 4chan last fall. 

Two years ago, 4chan's administrator added a literature board, or, /lit/, to the fifty or so extant forums. It was an immediate personal thrill to see the often puerile tone of 4chan's boards used to describe Dostoyevsky, for instance. The content on the ...

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