Morning all:
The subject line is pasted from Armin's nice note on typographically animated
pictogram language and the new media. And as to


This is the challenge set, at the time of the invention of cinema, in mallarme's
poem On the Tomb of Edgar Allan Poe which ends describing how, dead, the poet is
now 'tel qu'en lui-meme l'eternite le change', which I read in Andre Bazin's
film criticism, and which translates as the poet finally becoming that into
which eternity changes him.

Mallarme I think meant something like the poet dissappearing into his works;
Bazin uses it to describe the way cinema might, in pursuing ultimate realism,
finally change life into what it always should have been – real.

But I like to think of it less as the distant future of either society or myself
(death is always distant – until its too late), and more as a question of how
we can escape this awful Western prison of individuality.

Like Armin, I write, and I love my craft, not least because there come moments
when you can feel yourself so utterly immersed in the process of language that
you no longer speak it, and at a certain stage it no longer speaks you, but the
speaking subsumes both you and language into a single process. Then you really
forget the terrible subjective/objective divide that separates individual from
individual (and intellect from environment, and rulers from ruled, and bosses
from workers, and men from women, and mind from body etc etc etc). Language is a
medium – not the only one, but one of them – which information science,
semiotics and communications believe is mediated, mediates *between* people, is
a kind of black box at best, or unbridgeable gap at worst, that *divides* us.

What we are searching for in the 3rd millenium is immediation.

Immediation means, to me, not cutting the gap between people, but exactly as
Armin says, doing away with the terminals (you/me) in favour of the messages
that traverse us all like a vast oceanic tide of meanings.

Perhaps that means that what we need isn't new words, but a new grammar?

The sun is flickering on the Mersey: I have to go and look at it.


Vijay Pattisapu Nov. 5 2008 15:54Reply

Are "we" really searching for immediation? Anything social, it seems, involves mediation (as do many things humanitarian or merciful). Though themselves social in a way, it seems like vegetable, animal, and mineral lives also involve mediation, maybe just less …? L'animal est dans le monde comme l'eau dans l'eau. Bataille
I used to believe in the "Western prison of individuality," but I cannot reconcile that myth with the history of fascism (another myth?). Godwin's law.

Max Herman Nov. 5 2008 16:17Reply


Hi Vijay,

I think you have to have individuals to have a network, otherwise you just have a homogeneous glob. Also, you could say that sometimes individuals need a network, or can benefit from one. There is a definite risk however, very often occurring, of saying you don't need personal boundaries. I call this Connectionism, a form of Low Networkism, and a popular theme in Network Postmodernism–let's all fuse into a sexy blob. In reality you need to have networks that preserve individual liberty, dignity, and development while allowing interaction when desirable or appropriate and sometimes blocking bad interaction. That is both an abstract and a practical task for High Networkism to try to deal with during 2000-2500.



Vijay Pattisapu Nov. 7 2008 14:33Reply

I agree, especially about the vulgarity of "Connectionism," which seems to have tricked in various degrees not a few hippies, hackers, anarchists, Marxists … in fact what you've identified as "Connectionism" is a tendency more utopian strains of the Left could be more aware of in general.

curt cloninger Nov. 6 2008 14:44Reply

Hi Vijay,

I'm coming to understand language as an embodied force in the world rather than a once-removed abstraction of the world. Language doesn't need to be more immediate and less mediated; it has always been quite immediate and affective. Semiotics overlooks this embodied, historically contingent aspect of language. The problem with semiotics is that language as an abstract system is not really language in any sense that matters (although logicians and computer programmers get all excited about it).

Language is always doing what it does, we just don't always understand what it is doing. Language-based installations by Weiner and Nauman begin to indicate more clearly what language is actually doing. Is language reconstituting our individuality or eroding it? Yes, yes, and several other things besides.

Some Bakhtin:
"Language enters life through concrete utterances (which manifest language) and life enters language through concrete utterances as well… The natural meaning of the word applied to a particular actual reality under particular real conditions of speech communication creates a spark of expression… Only the contact between the language meaning and the concrete reality that takes place in the utterance can create the spark of expression. It exists neither in the system of language nor in the objective reality surrounding us."

Rob Myers Nov. 7 2008 05:54Reply

Under materialism it would make sense that language would be immanent to the physical world.

I'm a big fan of Weiner. I know some people are critical of his increasing theatricality, and there are institutional and economic relations to consider there, but I agree that it has a critical function. It shows the physicality and spatiality of written language, the dirt and significant noise of it. It also shows how written language relates to images in ways other than the simple domination of images by the purity of text that Theory presupposes.

Vijay Pattisapu Nov. 7 2008 15:24Reply

I like your expression "the dirt and the significant noise of [language]," to which I might add, though perhaps in different strains of thought than Weiner's: Cy Twombly (http://haberarts.com/twombly.htm), Shigeru Matsui (http://www008.upp.so-net.ne.jp/methodpoem/), Andy Warhol …


Vijay Pattisapu Nov. 7 2008 16:08Reply


I agree that language's embodiedness can be overlooked, but "language as an abstract system is not really language in any sense that matters"?

If this is true, don't we have to dismiss several other sciences?

Another problem that I have with this statement is that it begs the question: what sense of language does matter? Can we responsibly say that one sense of language does matter and one does not? That one matters more than another? On what criteria? To whom? Does what matters change over time?

I think Bakhtin's conceptual pivot, to observe language as the base and speakers and hearers as superstructure, does not try to be a totalizing conceptualization of language at the expense of more signal/noise-oriented conceptualizations (discrete {transmitter, receiver, information, noisy channel}). It is rather like how some economists conceptually pivot to see the economy as the system, and the individual human beings in it as components. Or like how the laws of physics are the same in all inertial reference frames, but some frames are more useful in certain cases for articulating certain problems / solutions than others. Or like how the Buddha pointed at the moon, reminding his students how everything he (/we) says points outside of itself, and that the finger is not the moon.


curt cloninger Nov. 7 2008 18:47Reply

Hi Vijay,

I agree with what you are saying. My problem with semiotics is when it claims that it is the single sense in which language matters. I'm not claiming (nor is Bakhtin) that his conception of the "utterance" is the single sense in which language matters either. Language matters in all these senses and probably several others. I'm just saying that language unuttered (and Bakhtin considers writing and reading a form of utterance) is some other, largely theoretical animal. When historically contingent utterance events are left out of the consideration of language, then you wind up with these mathematical Chomskyan structures claiming a reductive understanding of language that is incomplete and skewed.


Vijay Pattisapu Nov. 7 2008 15:26Reply

I should also say about this oft-expressed opinion of "the Western prison of individuality" that it almost assumes that there are non-Western peoples somewhere unencumbered thereof. This instance of the romance that there is an essential difference between East and West (or Europe and non-Europe), usefully identified by Edward Said as "Orientalism," can and often has shrouded less innocent politics.

I am inclined to believe rather that Africans, Asians, etc. are as driven by or against their individuality as Europeans, Americans, etc., just as capable of individualities like selfishness, pettiness, loneliness, crime, ambition, existentialism, or heroism – not "fused in a sexy blob" (Max Herman) and totally defined by some Zen or Ubuntu or Dharma or whatever other catachrestically constituted esprit de corps projected by certain elements of Western pop culture, a projection which reflects the impossibility of darkies returning the gaze, even as a sexy blob, which only reflects very real and distressing economic disparities. An African or Asian should be understood and approached as much as an individual as would a European or American; anything else is racist.

"The West is a name for a subject which gathers itself in discourse but is also an object constituted discursively; it is, evidently, a name always associating itself with those regions, communities, and peoples that appear politically or economically superior to other regions, communities, and peoples. Basically, it is just like the name 'Japan,' … it claims that it is capable of sustaining, if not actually transcending, an impulse to transcend all the particularizations." -Naoki Sakai

"Yet the very history of the politicization of the population, or the coming of political modernity, in countries outside of the Western capitalist democracies of the world produces a deep irony in the history of the political. This history challenges us to rethink two conceptual gifts of nineteenth-century Europe, concepts integral to the idea of modernity. One is historicism–the idea that to understand anything it has to be seen both as a unity and in its historical development–and the other is the very idea of the political. What historically enables a project such as that of 'provincializing Europe' is the experience of political modernity in a country like India. European thought has a contradictory relationship to such an instance of political modernity. It is both indispensable and inadequate in helping us to think through the various life practices that constitute the political and historical in India. Explor[e]–on both the theoretical and factual registers–this simultaneous indispensability and inadequacy of social science thought …" -Dipesh Chakrabarty

"Imperialist Europe denies its own vision of man." -Hichem Djait