Following up recent considerations at home and abroad, I'm pleased to present this month's binary musing: preservation (memory, saving, protecting, eating, collecting, fat) vs. disposal (forgetfulness, letting go, release, loss, waste, rejectamenta, vomit).


The Museification of the World

Being: the collecting, classifying and preservation of all things. Everything (external link). Retention pushed to the extreme.

The perpetrator: psychoanalyst Werner Muensterberger in his book, 'Collecting: An Unruly Passion' (amazon US) discusses the collector as an 'anal retentive' type:

"We know from experience that the young child is only gradually prepared and able to hold on to his excretion. And then it may feel good "to collect the stuff and hold it for a while before passing it on." Winnicott refers here to a physiological action which under certain circumstances can contribute to a sense of mastery. But this is not simply mastery over one's bowels. The child soon learns that by holding on or opening up, he or she is in command."

Fact: Parents change an average of 2,200 diapers for first the 18-20 months. After 20 months they expect the child to learn to delay his or her gratification.

Tim McLaughlin's Artificial Memory (courtesy eatonweb):

"If it is true that the purpose of individual memory is to survive the death of the moment, then it is equally true that the purpose of collective memory is to survive the death of the individual."


... OED: Refuse, waste materials; things cast up by the sea; excrements.

... Online Medical Dictionary: Things thrown out or away; especially, things excreted by a living organism.

When do we not call the remains messy? And hold our noses and shy away and shun them? Trash on the beach. The remains of flight 292. We use the word 'flotsam', the stuff that floated, that survived the shipwreck. Trash on the street. We use the word 'jetsam', the stuff that is dumped overboard to lighten the load, to survive. The remains of a meal, a newspaper. Spit and butted out cigarettes.

A's dilemma: How to survive the little death?
B's dilemma: Spit of swallow?


Three examples of coveted and/or collectible (ie. someone considers it worth saving) rejectamenta: [1] ambergris, [2] coprolites and [3] pearls.

[1] Ambergris. Is this sweet smelling substance, produced in the gut of the sperm whale, the world's most exotic vomit? Dr. Randy Ralph has produced a suite of pages that gather as much information as he could find on ambergris. I particularly like his graphical (semantic network like) 'Suggested Term Hierarchy' (external links).

[2] Coprolite. Fossilized faeces (often dinosaur dung).

[3] Pearl. Concretion, formed in response to an irritation caused by a foreign object such as a parasite or a grain of sand within the shell of pearl oyster and other bivalve molluscs.

Its webs of living gauze no more unfurl;
Wrecked is the ship of pearl!
And every chambered cell,
Where its dim dreaming life was wont to dwell,
As the frail tenant shaped his growing shell,
Before thee lies revealed,--
Its irised ceiling rent, its sunless crypt unsealed!

from 'The Chambered Nautilus' (1858) by Oliver Wendell Holmes.


Breathe in. Breathe out.

Beauty and the Beast

Ronald van Tienhoven paid me a visit the night before last. His arrival at the door of the studio exactly coincided with Steve Jobs' unveiling of Apple's new G4 'supercomputers' at Seybold. Like myself, Ronald is a Mac owner -- so he didn't mind joining me watching the streaming quicktime demonstrations of G4's bashing Pentium III's.

All in all it was a great show. We had fun. We whistled and made faces. Here was under-dog again pissing all over top-dog.

In my exuberance, I mailed a few people, "looks like Apple gets the last laugh this millenium..."

Yesterday my continuing exuberance was tempered by a colleague (an artist and notorious NT man) who reprimanded me for my simplistic "rah, rah Apple boosterism." Amongst other things he pointed out that:

"Anyone who has some knowledge knows that you pay more for equivalent Apple stuff for the design, the frills, and the prestige of owning an Apple..."

Very, very true.

"... And I know enough about hardware, software, etc. that I can save ALOT of money putting together an equivalent PC system..."

"Get away," I thought. Even if you can -- how much money are you going to save on $1599 (or less than $1499 street price)? But okay, I'll believe you.

"I think I'll spend the money I save on more interesting things than computer crap, while all you Apple users keep laughing."

Ah, here was the point. It was the old, 'who cares what the box looks like -- it's what you do with it which is important' argument. (Oddly, it reminded me of a very disgusting thing I used to hear in high school about the other sex... which I'm going to leave to your imagination...)

Reply to my colleague: "Listen we've had this discussion before. We're both artists and that means that we're both suckers for beautiful things, visual and conceptual. You give some of your attention and time to hardware and are able to leverage that knowledge to cheaply build fast machines. At the end of the day this gives you pleasure. I, on the other hand, get pleasure out the beauty I see in the Mac's aesthetics: its design, its hardware, its operating system, and yes, even its marketing. You're obviously top-dog. Stop being so defensive."

Conclusion of the foregoing.

Trust, Reputation and Risk

After Jobs' keynote, Ronald and I went to dinner at Tampopo where we started a lively colloquy over 'trust, reputation* and risk' (amazon US links) and their relevance to the emerging network society. Our talk gravitated around Ronald's project of the moment: an exhibition on information design that he and Marten de Reus are putting together for Stroom, and the million-dollar question: 'How do we continue to represent concepts like trust, reputation and risk?'

And once again Ronald delved into his prodigious inventory of facts to delight me with a story. Today's lotteries provide good examples of the representation of trust, reputation and risk. In Spain the winning lottery numbers are traditionally revealed on television by two orphans (symbolizing innocence and social disinterest) who do not simply read out the lucky numbers in front of the cameras, they sing them.

* I'm looking for a good book on 'reputation'. The following two seem interesting but are currently not in print:

Reputation, Image and Impression Management (1993), by D. B. Bromley.

Gifts and Poison: The Politics of Reputation (1971), by F. G. Bailey --apparently a classic anthropological study.


I was away most of yesterday, with meetings in Arnhem and Amsterdam.

Sub Culture

Amsterdam is currently filled with digeridoo players. Who are these people? They sit in the middle of the hot, busy pavement around Central Station, barefooted and sunburned, breathing and blowing their enormous wooden pipes for hours at a stretch. What are they after? They are obviously not your average 'musician type'. Few of them are asking money. From their eyes, you'd think that they are on a mission of some sort. They seem to have a secret, to share together some knowledge. But what?


A new weblog: Bovine Inversus, contains some clever links to clever things like a theremin emulator for your Palm Pilot, an excerpt from William Poundstone's 1983 book 'Big Secrets' (on backward masking), and the scoop on the 'smart dust' being developed at UC Berkeley (all external links).

Want a real theremin? (external link)


Rorty: Looking for truth is looking for beliefs that will help you get what you want.

Clue Train

The Clue Train just trundled slowly past my house (5 months after leaving Colorado) providing me a good opportunity to check out its already infamous manifesto (external links).

The manifesto consists of 95 theses. Here are the ones that caught my attention enough to warrant copying:

  1. The Internet is enabling conversations among human beings that were simply not possible in the era of mass media.

  2. As a result, markets are getting smarter, more informed, more organized. Participation in a networked market changes people fundamentally.

  3. There are no secrets. The networked market knows more than companies do about their own products. And whether the news is good or bad, they tell everyone.

  4. Networked markets can change suppliers overnight. Networked knowledge workers can change employers over lunch. Your own "downsizing initiatives" taught us to ask the question: "Loyalty? What's that?"

  5. Companies make a religion of security, but this is largely a red herring. Most are protecting less against competitors than against their own market and workforce.

  6. To traditional corporations, networked conversations may appear confused, may sound confusing. But we are organizing faster than they are. We have better tools, more new ideas, no rules to slow us down.

So what does this mean for the future of art and the future of (art) education? I'd say everything, if the market is truly the medium' (27.06.98). And if we are going to accept the Clue Train's first thesis:

  1. Markets are conversations.

as more than a cliché, we would do well to pay more attention (as artists and educators) to the dynamics of online communications than to its content.

Think: Addiction, Loyality, Passion, Persistence, Reputation, Risk, Schismogenesis, Superdistribution, Trust, Ubiquity.


Final day of Rotterdam's 'World Harbour' Days. Uncomfortably fine weather. Retreated to 'Eyes Wide Shut' this afternoon (airconditioned). Later was entertained with a free concert by the Rotterdam Philharmonic (and a good soprano). Concert took place on a barge parked right in front of the studio. Big crowd. Lovely arias.

You've Come a Long Way Baby

September 2nd was the 30th anniversary of Mr. Leonard Kleinrock's first experiments connecting two computers together at UCLA. Slashdot is carrying a report (external link) by Matthew Haugey covering UCLA's commemorative celebrations.

"They all spoke of the proposed growth of the Internet, to surpass one billion people online in the next decade, and they mentioned something that was discussed briefly on an earlier panel; that someday soon, anything you buy over a certain price, say $25, would offer connectivity to the internet for a specific reason. Not a toaster that checks email, but each appliance would use the Internet for communication purposes."

World population in 1950: 2, 556, 000, 053
Current estimate of world population: 6, 010, 344, 134
Estimated world population in 2009: 6, 755, 671, 869

(external links. Source: US Census Bureau.)

If - Then

How would you like it if every electronic device that you owned over $25.00 had its own IP address and was connected to the net? The benefits would be obvious: automatic tune-ups and bug fixes, automatic software updates, access to additional services beyond the normal scope of the device etc. But what about the costs?

Could you live with a potential loss to your privacy?

How often are you using that toaster of yours? At what times of the day? How many people are you usually making toast for?

What about a loss of control over your own property? Could you live with that? Consider Apple's recent ROM update for the blue and white G3. The update fixed some bugs and at the same time, without the customer being informed of the consequences, blocked the possibility of an upgrade to a G4 processor.* Customers who did not install the update can upgrade while those that did not, can not. An automatic updating process (especially of firmware) effectively takes charge of what you can do with your property.

*Note: At least this is what is being reported, see this page on Macintouch for more details.

Welcome to the Societies of Network

No woman is an island.

Thesis: The social pressures of the 'nation state' are rapidly eroding and being replaced by multiple societies of network.

Whereas the 'old' nation state network connected individuals in a fairly rigid and overseeable structure, societies of network connect both individuals and property in multiple and shifting networks. Yesterday's citizenship with its affordances and constraints (read: rights and taxes) is giving way to wider range of choices. Network pluralism affords a choice of tribal code AND software-hardware licenses. You are what you choose to be. You are what you buy.

Are you prepared for this choice?


Sartre said it the best: Hell is other people.

Bachelors and Hermits

Under the headings 'preach what you practice' and 'the bachelor pattern of ejaculation' JK critiques nettime's 'zero followup' as 'bachelor machine eros' which "doesn't even stain the screens of the California Ideology* which it so loves to hate." Acknowledging his wit and abusing his 'bachelor' metaphor slightly, you might imagine that nettime's singing and 'preaching to its own choir' is a form of 'coitus reservatus' as opposed to another very popular bachelor strategy, known in Dutch as 'voor het zingen de kerk uit' (to leave the church before you start singing), or 'coitus interuptus'. (Both links given above are external.)

*Archive: The Californian Ideology and Rebuttal of the Californian Ideology.

Although I agree with JK's critique of nettime's performance (especially considering their activist aspirations -- ie. their desire to make a mark and difference in the world), I'd argue that it is generally better for the longevity of the bachelor machine (external link) to conserve and recycle its energy rather than 'spill' it. (You know, taoist sexual yoga style...)

Meanwhile back at Alamut, Mike Tyler has responded to last month's Rus in Urbe and Good Hermits, Bad Hermits notes with a few hermit references of his own (Lilly is unfortunately out of print, Mike tells me De Certeau has been reprinted and is available):

  1. Isolation tank pioneer John Lilly's 'The Deep Self'.

  2. Michel de Certeau's analysis of Christian mysticism during the 16th and 17th century,'The Mystic Fable' (H. Bosch, Teresa of Avila, Francis Bacon, Meister Eckhart, Francis of Assisi).


Was to go to Groningen today, but became ill last night. Decided it would be better to stay in bed...

Deleuze Sings

Song. Arias Sunday, singing outside the church yesterday, and today, Deleuze sings. From Charles J. Stivale's transcription of Claire Parnet's interview with Gilles Deleuze (filmed as the 'Primer of Gilles Deleuze'):

Section cited: '0 as in Opera' (external link).

"Deleuze turns to something that he and Felix Guattari developed, something that he considers a very important philosophical concept, the ritornello (a.k.a. the refrain), it's the point in common (between the popular song and music). For Deleuze, the ritornello is this common point. Deleuze suggests defining the ritornello as a little tune, 'tra-la-la-la.' When do I say 'tra-la-la?' Deleuze asks. He insists that he's doing philosophy in asking when does he sing to himself. On three occasions: he sings this tune when he is moving about in his territory, wiping off his furniture, radio playing in the background. So, he sings when he's at home. Then, he sings to himself when not at home at nightfall, at the hour of agony, when he's seeking his way, and needs to give himself courage by singing, tra-la-la. He's heading home. And he sings to himself when he says 'farewell, I am leaving, and I will carry you with me in my heart,' it's a popular song, and I sing to myself when I am leaving home to go somewhere else. In other words, Deleuze continues, the ritornello is absolutely linked -- which takes the discussion back to 'A - Animal' -- to the problem of the territory and of exiting or entering the territory, i.e. the problem of deterritorialization. I return to my territory or I try, says Deleuze, or I deterritorialize myself, i.e. I leave, I leave my territory."


Still ill, I'm afraid.

Some Old Thoughts About Time

Looking earlier through some old notes that I made preparing for the first MFA course in Groningen (dated: November 1993) I found the following two quotations. The first was marked as something that I had once heard Vito Acconci say. I'm not sure of the source of the second.

  1. "The 60's began in 1967."

  2. "A man in 1000 A.D. would have largely recognized the technologies in use in 1200 A.D., with few small exceptions. This is true for most of human history. The 'technological event horizon' is getting closer. The Singularity will have arrived when that event horizon has narrowed to hours and be upon us when it has shrunk to seconds..."

Considering the first quotation it's easy to imagine the next millenium NOT starting when it should -- i.e. neither 4 months from now nor 16 months from now (people count in different ways). Musing on the second quotation it is equally easy to imagine that once the next millenium arrives -- it will be 'over' sooner than we expect.

Once (upon a time), millenium measurement was purely a cosmic question. For the man of 1000 A.D., the sun WAS the clock. More recently, as Acconci points out, we started to measure decades not in terms of the calender but in terms of social processes. Now, at the end of the 90's, our bodies and our minds seem to be torn between the diurnal and nocturnal clocks of sun and moon, and a new technological time piece, the megahertz clock, which runs at intervals (and speeds) no longer related to solar events.

Luddite chorus. In the style of Dr. Seuss (external link):

Would you, live in such a clock? (amazon US).
I would not, could not. Sam-I-am.
But would you, could you, sing in such a clock?
No Sam! I would not!



9/9/99: Dry-Run Day of Reckoning (external link).

By some counts (external link) today is an important day for millenarians, Y2K watchers, numerologists, and stock market analysts. It is also an auspicious day. A good day to begin things (superior starts!) or to end things (fine farewells!).

It's also a good day to watch things. To pay attention. To observe. In our book the letter A stands for 'Augury and Auspice', defined by the OED respectively as 'divination by flight of birds' and 'observation of birds for purposes of taking omens.'

Think: Pattern recognition...

In his Summa Theologica (external link), St. Thomas Aquinas surveys 13th century divination and while arguing that divination is composed of different species of sin, describes for us augury and auspice (which in his opinion are relatively benign as far as sins go):

"If one observe the movements and cries of birds or of any animals, or the sneezing of men, or the sudden movements of limbs, this belongs in general to "augury," which is so called from the chattering of birds [avium garritu], just as "auspice" is derived from watching birds [avium inspectione]."

... and analyse this:

Fingers fluttering. 9 seconds after the 9th minute after the 9th hour (9.09:09 GMT) on the 9th day of the 9th month of 1999 (Gregorian).

Small World Networks

There is an interesting story in this week's New Scientist on the degree of connectedness between the web's 800 million documents. Apparently the 19 degrees of separation between any two web pages qualify it as a 'Small World Network' similar to collaboration networks (such as Erdos numbers and Hollywood's movie star network) and to the popular Six Degrees Network (all external links).

A.K.A. The Travelling Salesman Problem

At play with the foregoing intelligence, Brigitte Eaton over at Eatonweb yesterday (US: 9.8.99 not Euro: 8.9.99) demonstrated that her site was 14 links removed from If you've got some time on your hands you're invited to see if you can find a shorter route. I'm sure there's one!


Before Weblogs

Milestone: Alamut is a year and a half old.

A year and a half ago, I was tired of making different sites for the different classes that I was teaching and the different art projects that I was doing. I just wanted to do one site and stick with it for the rest of my life.

I had just started to use Userland's Frontier (external link) and liked the idea of storing 'everything' pertaining to an all-in-one website in a single database. I was reading Goldhaber's 'The Attention Economy' and wanted to supplement my memory by recording what I was paying attention to. I'd spent years playing around with various classification systems and finally decided to organize things on a day-to-day basis rather than trying to fit all my ideas, notes, links and references into categories. And finally, I was curious about what would happen if I mixed up my public and personal communication.

Voila! There was Alamut.

Yesterday's Auspicious Tidings

A search for 9.9.99 news items 'that boded faire' turned up tales of two motors and a power supply. Not suprisingly subversion comes from quarters very small (molecular) and very large (the sun).

The Boston Motor (external link):

"It has just 78 atoms, took four years to build and it has a spindle that takes hours to rotate but it could be the forerunner of a revolution."

The Nature Culture Motor (external link):

"We believe this is a significant step toward the seamless integration of nanoscale technologies into living systems and to the creation of organic/inorganic intelligent systems."

The Plasma Reactor (external link):

"A fusion reactor could be fuelled by the Hydrogen in seawater with one gallon producing the equivalent energy of 300 gallons of petrol."


Update checking...

From the 'Protect me from what I want' dept.

The concept comes from B. F. Skinner and is called variable interval reinforcement. I had Mark Madel (external link) on the phone and he told me about it. He also told me that it is currently being discussed in the US in relation to certain kinds of 'internet addiction.'

"An example of a fixed interval reinforcement would be the parent who always waits one day before giving his children any permissions. An example of a variable interval reinforcement would be a parent who sometimes gives permissions right away and sometimes waits a while or a day or two. Experiments have shown that variable interval reinforcements bring about a more constant performance of the behavior being reinforced." [1]

Consider variable interval reinforcement and gambling, particularly gambling with slot machines. You put some money in a slot and pull a handle. You watch some icons spin and you hear some sound. And most of the time that's the end of the story. Every once in a while, however, your effort pays off. You never know when it is going to pay off. That's what makes it attractive. The whole thing is amazingly brainless and simple. And very, very addictive.

"Common sense would assume that continuous reinforcement would maintain behaviors better than would intermittent reinforcement. However, experiments with animals have shown that a "pigeon whose key-pecking behavior has been reinforced continuously may peck somewhere around 50 to 200 times after the reinforcement is cut off. However, on an intermittent schedule, 4000 to 10,000 pecks may be emitted during the extinction period. Similar outcomes can be expected with regard to the extinction of human behaviors in everyday life." [2]


Update Checking Syndrome (UCS) anyone?

[1] William O'Meara's Philosophy 101 page on B. F. Skinner's Determinism.

[2] Nye, R.D. Three Views of Man: Perspectives from Sigmund Freud, B.F. Skinner, and Carl Rogers. 1975.

Subordinate This Site

Man, you have got to love this. Saw it on Camworld (external link) but it is too good to resist (not repeating). Subordinate Alamut.


Tropical weather again today. And they promised that it would rain. Sigh.

Morality's Voice

Concerned? Outraged? Titillated? Resigned? Read and compare two more views on this rather volatile situation:

(1) Noam Chomsky: Why Americans Should Care About East Timor (external link).

"There are three good reasons why Americans should care about East Timor. First, since the Indonesian invasion of December 1975, East Timor has been the site of some of the worst atrocities of the modern era -- atrocities which are mounting again right now. Second, the US government has played a decisive role in escalating these atrocities and can easily act to mitigate or terminate them. It is not necessary to bomb Jakarta or impose economic sanctions. Throughout, it would have sufficed for Washington to withdraw support and to inform its Indonesian client that the game was over. That remains true as the situation reaches a crucial turning point -- the third reason."

(2) Why East Timor Matters (external link).

"The East Timor situation has been simmering for decades, seemingly defying solution while having few consequences beyond the immediate tragedy. Put differently, East Timor appears to be a situation with moral significance but without strategic implications. To a great extent, this has been true in the generation since Indonesia seized East Timor during the collapse of the Portuguese empire. It is not true now. East Timor has substantial strategic significance...

"... In East Timor, the regime essentially decided to withdraw its military forces from a region. What the regime did not make clear was what was to happen to the economic and political interests of the forces in the region. The army's tremendous resistance to withdrawal stems from a simple fact: the army in East Timor has made its living, fed its families and enriched itself to the extent possible, precisely because they were in East Timor. Withdrawing forces from East Timor is not like deciding to move a division of American troops from Germany to Texas. It represents a direct assault on the livelihood of those forces.

"Now, if times were still flush, this would not necessarily represent such a terrible challenge. But times are not flush. They are awful. Wherever those forces are transferred, there will be not only additional mouths to feed, but also potentially direct competitors with forces already in the region. No one wants to see East Timor troops, tough and hungry, transferred to their region. No one sees a reason to withdraw at all, least of all the troops in East Timor."

PAUL PERRY. Defend Yourself (and your friends). 1997.
Snowshoes, Dutch license plates, tire, brass bell, yellow ribbon.


Working on the curriculum.


Thoughts to start one thinking*...

(1) 1911. The Italian sculptor Boccioni said, "We are primitives of an unknown culture."

(2) 1999. The first person to walk on Mars is alive at this very moment.

*This is an example of modified epanalepsis (external link).

One Small Step at a Time

Dave Winer asks whether or not the web is a Turing Machine. It's not one now, he argues, but it could be, if sites were linked up with XML-RPC. And what about the future? Would it be possible for this year's business and marketing breakthrough to bootstrap itself into a Global Brain? (external links)


I'm looking for a new title for the MFA course and considering something along the lines of 'Dutch School for Advanced Research in Networked Media'. A search (external link) for a lively anagram for the phrase 'NETWORKED MEDIA' produced:


While a similar search for an anagram for the letters 'D.S.F.A.R.I.N.M.' produced:


And you asked what's in a name?

Education Technology

The 'Theory into Practice' database (external link).

"TIP is a tool intended to make learning and instructional theory more accessible to educators. The database contains brief summaries of 50 major theories of learning and instruction. These theories can also be accessed by learning domains and concepts."

Nutshell guides to "learning how to learn" (more modified epanalepsis): Bruner is here. De Bono is here. Gardner is here. Maltzman is here. Rogers is here. And Skinner is here. (All external links.)


Camus and coffee. Teaching, murder and suicide.

I Never Knew This

I read somewhere online last night that Camus tended to work in thematic triplets, writing one novel, one play and one philosophical essay. For example, the novel 'The Stranger', the play 'Caligula', and the essay 'The Myth of Sisyphus' are each reflections on suicide. Likewise 'The Plague', 'The Rebel', and 'The Just Assassins' are reflections on murder.

A bit grisly yes.

But of capital interest to us--especially given our curricular work of the moment; our educational obligations and our search for forms and patterns and structures... For like Camus, we want to capture a theme and at the same time we understand for it to be effective we must distribute it across many experiences. And like Camus, we believe we can learn about creativity and education by understanding how it is killed and how it comes to kill itself.

Looking for the 'Right' Word

From Stirner's 1842 essay, 'The False Principle of Our Education' (external link):

"Because our time is struggling toward the word with which it may express its spirit, many names come to the fore and all make claim to being the right name. On all sides our present time reveals the most chaotic partisan tumult and the eagles of the moment gather around the decaying legacy of the past. There is everywhere a great abundance of political, social, ecclesiastical, scientific, artistic, moral and other corpses, and until they are all consumed, the air will not be clean and the breath of living beings will be oppressed."

"Without our assistance, time will not bring the right word to light; we must all work together on it. If, however, so much depends upon us, we may reasonably ask what they have made of us and what they propose to make of us; we ask about the education through which they seek to enable us to become the creators of that word. Do they conscientiously cultivate our predisposition to become creators or do they treat us only as creatures whose nature simply permits training?"


There could be something wrong with the word 'right'. See note: Why Justice is Wrong (01.07.98).

Who says the 'right' word or phrase isn't hidden inside an old word or phrase? JK has come up with another interesting anagram (both external links) for ART'S CURRICULUM:



For so the game is ended,
That should not have begun.

A. E. Housman


...the word shall survive the death of its host...

Like the odometer of an old car my days alive relentlessly click. Today marks 15,883 on the guage. And you know, with each increment I think I understand more and more what ornery shit kickers and disestablishment seekers like Max Stirner and André Breton and Celia Green were writing about.

Written words and biochips. Friends, that's our future.

Yes I'm in a funk and I'm too busy to explain why. But before I go I want to leave you with an opinion: James Abbott McNeill Whistler, the author of the 'Gentle Art of Making Enemies' (NQPAOFU Scroll to May 11), was rabid. And sane. All at the same time. And it was words that made him do it.

(Links: all external but the first.)


Marshall McLuhan

This morning I spent an animated hour delivering my terms to a group of Minerva students: "Listen up you guys! In this class we're going to read and perform some chapters from a book on media that was written in 1964..." Hmm. Why does the start of each school year need to be accompanied by such radical resolutions?

Social is the Artist

Do great artists turn into 'human beings' after 5 o'clock? G. K. Chesterton devotes a chapter (external link) of his book 'Heretics' to upbraiding and 'dis-ing' James McNeil Whistler (the gentle author of 'The Gentle Art of Making Enemies') and his total engagement with art:

"The artistic temperament is a disease that afflicts amateurs. It is a disease which arises from men not having sufficient power of expression to utter and get rid of the element of art in their being. It is healthful to every sane man to utter the art within him; it is essential to every sane man to get rid of the art within him at all costs. Artists of a large and wholesome vitality get rid of their art easily, as they breathe easily, or perspire easily. But in artists of less force, the thing becomes a pressure, and produces a definite pain, which is called the artistic temperament. Thus, very great artists are able to be ordinary men-- men like Shakespeare or Browning. There are many real tragedies of the artistic temperament, tragedies of vanity or violence or fear. But the great tragedy of the artistic temperament is that it cannot produce any art.

"Whistler could produce art; and in so far he was a great man. But he could not forget art; and in so far he was only a man with the artistic temperament. There can be no stronger manifestation of the man who is a really great artist than the fact that he can dismiss the subject of art; that he can, upon due occasion, wish art at the bottom of the sea. Similarly, we should always be much more inclined to trust a solicitor who did not talk about conveyancing over the nuts and wine. What we really desire of any man conducting any business is that the full force of an ordinary man should be put into that particular study. We do not desire that the full force of that study should be put into an ordinary man. We do not in the least wish that our particular law-suit should pour its energy into our barrister's games with his children, or rides on his bicycle, or meditations on the morning star. But we do, as a matter of fact, desire that his games with his children, and his rides on his bicycle, and his meditations on the morning star should pour something of their energy into our law-suit. We do desire that if he has gained any especial lung development from the bicycle, or any bright and pleasing metaphors from the morning star, that the should be placed at our disposal in that particular forensic controversy. In a word, we are very glad that he is an ordinary man, since that may help him to be an exceptional lawyer."

Chesterton saying, "It is essential to every sane man to get rid of the art within him at all costs" sounds reasonable, but here on Alamut it makes us to wonder, "What does he mean when he uses the word sanity?" In her book 'The Human Evasion' (external link) the psychologist Celia Green considers 'sanity' a dangerous social disease, a sort of opium:

"Society begins to appear much less unreasonable when one realizes its true function. It is there to help everyone to keep their minds off reality. This follows automatically from the fact that it is an association of sane people, and it has already been shown that sanity arises from the continual insertion of 'other people' into any space into which a metaphysical problem might intrude."

Note: We're not questioning the 'meaning' of sanity. We're questioning the meaning of the person using the word. How do the ordinary and the exceptional relate to each other?



Could my longing for winter be due to a lack of sleep and dreams?

From the (often) surrealist Bovine Invertus weblog (September 8 entry. External link):

Complete instructions for building a Brion Gysin style Dream Machine...

From 'Here to Go: Planet R-101. Brion Gysin interviewed by Terry Wilson' (1982):

Uh ... presumably ... ummmm I've written a piece which has gotten lost; I've sold it to a collector instead of getting it published ... it wasn't a very good piece, it was funny ... essentially not a very funny subject ... but, uh, I made a pilgrimmage to Alamut, the castle of the Assassins ... uh, in the summer of 1973--and I know less than when I started ... that's it ... I know less than when I started ...

Note: The painter Brion Gysin (1916-1986) is considered by many to be the 'father' of aural and textual 'cut-up'. Brion Gysin certainly turned William Burroughs on... with (as you know) the result infecting an entire generation.


The Art of Reputation

Who hasn't been paying attention to the tsunami surrounding the launch of

... and read Jakob Nielsen's Alert Box: Reputation Managers are Happening?

... and re-read the relevant passages of Tim May's Cyphernomicon outline? (while suddenly realising that May's Cyphernomicon anno 1994 sounds an awful lot like 'Cryptonomicon' anno 1999. Coincidence? "Yes," Neal Stephenson says, in the book's FAQ.)

... and noted, by way of maintaining coverage of all things augural, that the OED defines the noun 'pinion' as 'the terminal segment of a bird's wing' and the verb 'to pinion' as 'the act of cutting off the pinion of a bird to prevent flight'?

But there is plenty more to think about. I've certainly included 'Reputation Management' as an issue in the school curriculum that I've been working on. How will that work? How will a student rate the only graduate program that they know? How will a student rate a learning experience in which they have failed? (Assuming, of course, that it is possible to fail a learning experience...)


Launch and Learn

A note which could have also called itself Generators II or alt.syntax.tactical.

TELL ME: Should we 'mean what we write' or 'write what we mean'?*

To 'write what we mean' means placing our thoughts and opinions first. Writing follows. To 'mean what we write' means that we don't have a clue what we think or what are opinions are until the words tell us. And then we believe them.

Happily there is a third option. We neither 'write what we mean' nor do we 'mean what we write'. We write and then we learn. What's to believe?

There's another way of saying this: we can take the word out of a sentence, but we can't take the sentence out of a word... For words (and longer strings of meaning) have their own preferences. They either take to us or they don't. Words spin and stochasticate. Hey vertigo! Watch those words...

*This is an example, not of chiasmus, but of antimetabole (external links).


Day one of the fall.

Busy day. First I was in Amsterdam adjudicating a design competition for a present for the Queen, then (back in Rotterdam) I had a meeting with Maurice and Jaakko to discuss a submission for a new museum complex outside of Milan. Finally I came home and finished the icecream.

Elizabethan Curse Generator (external link).


Grand Circumspection

A visitor to my studio invited me to produce an art piece for a party in Gent this New Year's Eve. A party which at least 10,000 people are expected to attend. I had to laugh when he asked. Me? How ironical! I'm the last person in the world to go to such a party and besides, New Year's Eve is the one event each year that I habitually avoid.*

And this is going to be Y2K man!

I know it's perverse but I have to admit there is something about this invitation's possibilities that intrigues me...

What would the circumspect misanthropist do in such a situation?

*Why do I hate New Year's? Because I think it is dangerous to be around when normally 'sane' folk run amok, as they do in this country on New Year's Eve. I don't like drunks and screamers; when everybody starts 'misbehavin' en masse I just want to go to bed.


Wasted a few precious hours this afternoon exploring the possibilities of marking up web pages through a mediator. Since the 'Third Voice' client only works with Windows and IE, I used Third Voices' illustrious open-source predecessor, 'Critsuite'. The verdict: Critsuite works but is terribly clunky and slow. For this afternoon's purpose, plain-old-email to the author would have been faster.

JK's IDIE.NET (all links external).


Lost and Found

Looking for Gordon Matta-Clark (1943-1978), I couldn't find an image of one of his 'building cuts' but did uncover the following example of a 'word cut' (found online, spelling as found):


An ark kit puntureA kneecap fractureAn acupunture
An architectureIn architectureAn austral vector
Anarchy tortureOn architectureAn austral under
An artic lectureAn attic tortureA nector taster
Atlantis lectureAn artic vectorA narco trader
An orchid textureAn art kit tortureAn asstral factor
Ant legislatorAnarchy thunderA fillibuster
Anarchy lectureA lettuce textureA fuller brushman
An art collectorAn art defectorAn austral bushman
Aunt artic tortureAn ass reflectorAn artic tractor
An airkey talkleAn airkey tactileAn airkey tickle

Gordon Matta-Clark: Anarchitecture, Flash Art, June 1974.

Meanwhile a new book on Matta-Clark will be released in December:

Object to be Destroyed: The Work of Gordon Matta-Clark. Pamela Lee. MIT Press 1999. (amazon US)

The Birth of a Genre

or the beastly beatitudes of being the first...

(The) ...Web is a highly flexible system in a rapidly changing world. On the scales at which we are required to operate today, treating of the environment of tens or of hundreds of thousands, it is not possible to conceive of long-range plans being based on any fixed spatial of compositional relationships. Even as the first part of a plan is realized, it changes the conditions which govern the next stage, and, by continuous feedback, the whole plan. The non-centric, open-ended Web will respond to this life process.

Shadrach Woods: 'Urban Environment: The Search for System', World Architecture, London 1964.


Creator-- A comedian whose audience is afraid to laugh.

H. L. Mencken.


This Day in History (Alamut a year ago today).

Synthetic Zero combines candy, Baudrillard, Christopher Alexander, Hugh Everett's Many Worlds Interpretation and Lemonyellow's page design to produce yet another intriguing web journal (all links external).

From Powell's

Yesterday a new box from Powell's arrived containing the 2 volume abridgement of the Inman Diary (amazonUS). Also included was George Kubler's 'The Shape of Time: Remarks on the History of Things', which, after flipping through quickly, I'm very glad I ordered. It looks like it will come in handy. Lately I've been thinking about inventing and propagating my own calender. You know how it is--chaos (incessantly) searching for a system etc.


First Things First

Have you ever noticed how plans are like funnels? And that the first few steps you make within a plan largely determine the plan's outcome?

Once you see this you realise how important it is to fully define what you are trying to do before you set out and you start being careful about your first moves.

For as mother used to say, "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."

Pay attention. And if, at the outset of a plan, you notice a sign that says, 'Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here,' you had better turn around and walk quickly in a different direction.

First Things First: 1964 and 2000 (external link).


Four Imitations

Yesterday on the street. Saw an old junky outside the big Chinese supermarket on the West Kruiskade, attempting to imitate the 'straatkrant' (street paper) sellers with a handful of free magazines.

Later at home. Turned packages of vegetarian mock duck and deep fried tofu, fresh shanghai pak soi, mustard greens, carrots, radish sprouts and udon noodles into an excellent dinner.

This morning at home. Played a game of 'El Cabellero' with Loes. She won.

This afternoon in the city. Scrounging around De Slegte, I found a copy of William Burroughs' and Brion Gysin's 'The Third Mind' (1978), a book that documents their early 'cut up and learn' (20.09.99) writing experiments.

Maximum Attention Span

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calculates the theoretical limits to attention in his book Flow: the Psychology of Optimum Experience (1990):

"It seems we can manage at most seven bits of information--such as differentiated sounds, or visual stimuli, or recognizable nuances of emotion or thought--at any one time, and that the shortest time it takes between one set of bits and another is about 1/18 of a second. By using this figure one concludes that it is possible to process at most 126 bits of information per second, or 7,560 per minute, or almost half a million per hour. Over a lifetime of seventy years, and counting sixteen hours of waking time each day, this amounts to about 185 billion bits of information. It is out of this total that everything in our life must come--every thought, memory, feeling, or action. It seems a huge amount, but in reality it doesn't go that far.

"The limitation of consciousness is demonstrated by the fact that to understand what another person is saying we must process 40 bits of information a second. If we assume the upper limit of our capacity to be 126 bits per second, it follows that to understand what three people are saying simultaneously is theorectically possible, but only by managing to keep out of consciousness every other thought or sensation. We couldn't, for instance, be aware of the speakers' expressions, nor could we wonder about whey they are saying what they are saying, or notice what they are wearing."

So what about value? If we know the maximum amount of attention that we can draw on--can we calculate what it's worth? How much do you value your own attention? How much is your attention worth?


It's pissing down rain. :-)

"Work will turn into play," in Futurist Rolf Jensen's 'The Dream Society' (via Rebecca's Pocket).

Technical Deposition of the Virus Power

From the Third Mind by William Burroughs and Brion Gysin:

"Gentlemen, it was first suggested that we take our own image and examine how it could be made more portable. We found that simple binary coding systems were enough to contain the entire image however they required a large amount of storage space until it was found that the binary information could be written at the molecular level, and our entire image could be contained within a grain of sand. However it was found that these information molecules were not dead matter but exhibited a capacity for life which is found elsewhere in the form of virus. Our virus infects the human and creates our image in him.

"... This virus released upon the world would infect the entire population and turn them into our replicas, it was not safe to release the virus until we could be sure that the last groups to go replica would not notice. To this end we invented variety in many forms, variety that is of information content in a molecule, which, enfin, is always a permutation of the existing material. Information speeded up, slowed down, permutated, changing at random by radiating the virus material with high-energy rays from cyclotrons, in short we have created an infinity of variety at the information level, sufficient to keep so-called scientists busy forever exploring the 'richness of nature.'"

Compare Burroughs' 'technical deposition' with McLuhan's discussion of form and content (Alamut, 09.04.99), "The ostensible program content is a lulling distraction needed to enable the structural form to get through the barriers of conscious attention." And then wonder (for the second time in two days), 'How much is your attention worth?'


Split. 1. break, cause to break, be broken, into two or more parts, especially from end to end along the line of a natural division. 2. divide. 3. break (open) by bursting. 4. 'splitting one's sides,' laugh violently. 'a splitting headache,' a very severe one. 'splitting hairs,' make very fine distinctions (in an argument, etc.).


Things that split: minds, icebergs, wood, people (in the seventies).


This afternoon I presented my recommendations for the MFA program (working title: Dutch School for Advanced Research in Networked Media) to my fellow policy makers at Media-GN. It was a difficult meeting. Difficult because the plan that I'd worked out met with the other's approval, they liked it. Difficult because I was the one that was negative, I turned out to be the nay sayer. How did that happen?

To put it simply, the plan is situated (as it must be) in today's network reality and the extraordinary opportunities and potentialities that the network affords. It combines topical issues and innovations: ideas about schools and networks, innovations in (art) didactics and program structure. I believe in the plan, and believe that it is the only way to go forward in new media education at a post-academic level. I believe that with the right support it could turn into something truly great and produce most excellent results. But I just don't believe the 'right support' exists in Groningen. At least not in the system of 'higher' education.

As I said, it was a difficult meeting. Before the eyes of those at the table I launched a plan and immediately sank it again. In doing so I implicated the politics and organization of our system of art education and flatly stated that no one in the current organization possesses the skills or 'sense' needed to embark on such a project.

It was a very difficult meeting.

Gordon Matta-Clark. Splitting. 1974.


Love is a puppy that grows up and says goodbye.

The upshot of yesterday's meeting is that I 'resigned' today. This is a strange thing to say when I think that for the six years that I've been at Media-GN I have never had an 'official appointment.' In many ways it has always been 'my own company.' How do you resign from your own company?

(You die?)


Jente's response to 'How do you resign from your own company?' is 'You sell it.' She's right, but up until now such a concept hasn't been part of my nature... Is there something that I should be learning here?

I just got off the phone to Jouke. In the midst of my hour of 'decompression', he mentioned that he'd read recently that "the truth is always late." This is something I do want to learn. In the future I don't want to waste time with 'too late' truth.

ALAMUT.COM is privately owned and operated
First created: 1/9/99; 08:24:33 CET
Last modified: 10/2/00; 18:13:23 CET