ads without products

Archive for May 2006

wants to be free

leave a comment »

A terrific passage from Alan Liu’s The Laws of Cool:

Now, perhaps, we can understand the true meaning of the emancipation proclamation of the information age first uttered in 1984 by Stewart Brand, publisher of The Whole Earth Catalog: “information wants tot be free.” In the era of the Whole Earth Corporation, “information wants to be free” is ultimately how we are no longer allowed to say “we” want to be free. “We,” the subject and class of information culture, come fully to know our world only in the blinding moment of illumination when the world network routes around our knowledge – that is, the us in our knowledge that Fukuyama (in the other half of his thesis) terms “the struggle for recognition” and Castells (in the second volume of his Information Age trilogy) calls “the power of identity.” We do not even need the hyperbole of cyberpunk science fiction, with its unerring instinct for the mutilation of subjects (e.g., the silicon-punctured bodies and flat-lined subjectivities of Gibson’s Neuromancer), to grasp the intensity of our loss – nor the uncanny double of that intensity, the blurred anomie of it all. “X” marks the spot where the whole generation of incipient knowledge workers in the United States suceeding the baby boomers – the generation caught in the “pipeline” from education to the corporation – has been deleted from the network. Indeed, we may speculate that the purely generational identity of “Gen X” (and now “Gen Y” after them) looms large at this moment precisely because it is an empty solidarity reflecting – as if in cyberpunk “mirrorshades” – the hollow form of the corporate world’s own generational identity as “workforce 2000.” “We” are no more than this transient moment when we have nothing more in common – as Jean-Luc Nancy might say in his Inoperative Community – than our finitude, our extinction, our “death.” (69)

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by adswithoutproducts

May 22, 2006 at 11:43 pm


leave a comment »

Matt Christie’s got an excellent post up over at Long Sunday about an excellent piece in n+1 by Mark Grief. Go check it out. From Grief:

It’s finally become possible to take a better view: not unlimited laissez-faire hubris, and not irrational machine-breaking either. In a country where some portions of development have gone further than anybody would like, because of everyone’s discrete private actions (as in the liquidation of landscape and the lower atmosphere)–while other portions, as in medical insurance and preventive care, have not gone far enough–then intentional de-development might be the best thing that can occur. The eradication of diseases is not something you would like to see end; nor would you want to lose the food supply, transportation, and good order of the law and defense. On the other hand, more cell phones and wireless, an expanded total entertainment environment, more computerization for consumer tracking, greater concentrations of capital and better exploitation of “inefficiencies” in the trading of securities, the final throes of extraction and gas-guzzling and –to hell with it. I’d rather live in a more equal world at a slower pace.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by adswithoutproducts

May 22, 2006 at 12:58 am

Posted in simplicity, socialism

democracy and democratic solutions

leave a comment »


CARACAS, Venezuela (Reuters) – Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said on Sunday that Oscar-winning director Oliver Stone was planning to film a movie about the 2002 coup in Venezuela that briefly ousted the former army officer.

Just to review, from the NYT, April 17, 2002:

Administration officials vigorously denied today that they had encouraged plotters or had any advance knowledge of plans to oust Mr. Chávez, a populist leader whose leftist policies have long antagonized the United States.

But Mr. Reich’s advice to Mr. Carmona on the very day that military officers took Mr. Chávez into custody at an army base suggests an early and urgent administration interest in seeing Mr. Carmona succeed and maintain the appearance of democratic continuity. It was not clear what time Mr. Reich placed his call on Friday.

Administration officials notified members of Congress on Friday that Mr. Chávez had resigned. The report was erroneous, and he insists that he never relinquished his office. The United States did not condemn the action against Mr. Chávez, a democratically elected leader, until Saturday evening after angry protesters forced Mr. Carmona to resign.

Asked to explain the discrepancy, administration officials have said they were acting on the best information they had during a chaotic situation.

”Those events were not anticipated,” Ari Fleischer, the White House spokesman, said today. ”And once those events took place, the United States did move to condemn it.”

Mr. Carmona, who heads Venezuela’s largest business association, was one of numerous critics of Mr. Chavez to call on administration officials in recent weeks. Officials from the White House, State Department and Pentagon, among others, were hosts to a stream of Chávez opponents, some of them seeking help in removing him from office.

Administration officials insisted today that, despite their disdain for Mr. Chávez, they categorically ruled out an ouster during their conversations with his opponents. But American officials did discuss replacing Mr. Chávez through a referendum or by impeachment, and did not disguise their eagerness to see him gone, officials acknowledged.

”The United States policy is to support democracy and democratic solutions to any type of problems in nations around the world,” Mr. Fleischer said. He added, ”We explicitly told opposition leaders that the United States would not support a coup.”

Oh, and go check out a nice report from Chavez’s recent visit to England.

How enjoyable to escape from the careful political tacking carried on year in and year out by parties dancing around each other in a bloodless political dance devoid of passion and ideology. Whatever one’s political views, it was a shot in the arm to hear a political leader having no difficulty in condemning capitalism and condemning the United States government in terms which no European politician would ever dare to use in public. And in recommending “socialism of the twenty-first century” as part of green platform of care for the environment and of husbanding the earth’s resources for the benefit of future generations.

(Lots of this material via Wolcott…)

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by adswithoutproducts

May 21, 2006 at 10:52 pm

Posted in america, socialism


leave a comment »

Always exciting to see Verso’s new list come out.

The ones I’m most interested in, roughly in order of my interest:

Frederic Jameson, The Modernist Papers

Fredric Jameson, one of America’s finest cultural critics, offers his dynamic insight into modernist literature and art. A companion to the classic A Singular Modernity, this stunning tour de force looks at the innovative literary experiments of Joyce and Proust, the poetry of Wallace Stevens, William Carlos Williams and Gertrude Stein and the writing of Kafka, Mann and Mallarmé, to provide a distinct perspective on the culture of new beginnings and avant-garde endeavors.

Raymond Williams, The Politics of Modernism: Against the New Conformists

Considered to be the founding father of British cultural theory, Williams was concerned throughout his life to apply a materialist and socialist analysis to all forms of culture, defined generously and inclusively as “structures of feeling.” In this major work, Williams applies himself to the problem of modernism. Rejecting stereotypes and simplifications, he is especially preoccupied with the ambivalent relationship between revolutionary socialist politics and the artistic avant-garde. Judiciously assessing the strengths and weaknesses of the modernist project, Williams shifts the framework of discussion from merely formal analysis of artistic techniques to one which grounds these cultural expressions in particular social formations. Animating the whole book is the question which Williams poses and brings us significantly closer to answering: namely, what does it mean to develop a cultural analysis that goes ”beyond the modern” and yet avoids the trap of postmodernism’s “new conformism”?

Raphael Samuel, The Lost World of British Communism

The Lost World of British Communism is a vivid account of the Communist Party of Great Britain. Raphael Samuel, one of post-war Britain’s most notable historians, draws on novels of the period and childhood recollections of London’s East End, as well as memoirs and Party archives. He evokes the world of British Communism in the 1940s, when the movement was at the height of its political and theoretical power, and raises prophetic questions about socialist motivation, collective identity, and historicizing the Communist past

Mao Zedong / Slavoj Zizek, On Practice and Contradiction

These early philosophical writings underpinned the Chinese revolutions and their clarion calls to insurrection remain some of the most stirring of all time. Drawing on a dizzying array of references from contemporary culture and politics, Zizek’s firecracker commentary reaches unsettling conclusions about the place of Mao’s thought in the revolutionary canon.

“Communism is not love. Communism is a hammer, which we use to crush the enemy.” — Mao Zedong

Boaventura De Sousa Santos,Another Knowledge is Possible

This is the third volume of the series Reinventing Social Emancipation: Towards New Manifestoes series. Another Knowledge Is Possible explores the struggles against moral and cultural imperialism and neoliberal globalization that have taken place over the past few decades, and the alternatives that have emerged in countries throughout the developing world from Brazil and Colombia, to India, South Africa and Mozambique. In particular it looks at the issue of biodiversity, the confrontation between scientific and non-scientific knowledges, and the increasing difficulty experienced by great numbers of people in accessing information and scientific-technological knowledge.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by adswithoutproducts

May 21, 2006 at 1:18 am

Posted in socialism


with 2 comments

The list of reasons to be proud to be an American shrinks by the minute.

The list, it’s getting awfully short…

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by adswithoutproducts

May 19, 2006 at 2:24 am

Posted in america


leave a comment »

Owen Hatherley, at The Measures Taken (one of the best blogs going, btw), on just what’s so disturbing about the Victoria & Albert Museum’s new exhibition, Modernism: Designing a New World 1914-1939.

Rather, what disturbs here is what Jenkins, quite rightly, calls politics in the guise of art. One scribbled comment in the book asks why the connection between modernism and Nazism wasn’t emphasised (well, that would be because there wasn’t one), others use phrases like ‘cold’ or ‘brutal’…what the detractors have noticed is that much of this essentially comes from, or supports, the possibility of a system other than the one we are perpetually told is the only possible. Whether it’s the photos of militant stronghold siedlung Karl-Marx-Hof in Vienna, a huge model of the Vesnin’s Pravda building, Rodchenko’s oddly alluring workers’ overalls, Corbusier taking a pen and scribbling out the centre of Paris…there are hundreds of possibilities dotted around these Victorian corners.

UPDATE: And today there’s more, complete with a very provocative quotation from Stalin:

“The combination of the Russian revolutionary sweep with American efficency is the essence of Leninism in Party and state work.”

Joseph Stalin, Foundations of Leninism, 1924

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by adswithoutproducts

May 17, 2006 at 9:04 pm


leave a comment »

Normally I’d feel a bit bad about stealing a post whole hog from another blog, but this one needs to be stolen I think. From an interview with Greg Palast on Democracy Now via Le Colonel Chabert.

GREG PALAST: Yeah, that’s why I wrote a book, because it does link the whole thing together. I mean, I just got back from meeting with Chavez, as you know, and you showed our interview a few weeks ago. He’s offered the U.S. $50-a-barrel oil. That’s a third off of what we’re paying right now. Now, you would think our president would be down in Caracas kissing Hugo Chavez’s behind and saying, “Thank you, thank you for dropping the price of oil by a third, and let’s make a deal,” because Chavez wants a deal.

But he’s not doing that, our president, even though the high prices are costing about a million jobs right now. And the reason he’s not is that what Chavez will not do is that Chavez will not return the money. It’s not about petroleum, it’s about petrodollars, as I explain in the book. In other words, when George Bush rides around King Abdullah in his little golf cart on the Crawford ranch, he’s not trying to get Abdullah’s oil. Abdullah can’t drink the stuff. He’s got to sell it to us and Japan. But Abdullah takes the money back from the — when you fill up your SUV, you give your money to Saudi Arabia, the big oil companies, Saudi Arabia. But then he returns it the form of petrodollars, and that is what is funding George Bush’s mad spending spree.

We have a president who has racked up $2 trillion in extra debt, you know, stone sober, apparently. And someone’s got to pay for that. And basically we’re paying for it by effectively an oil tax, which is returned to us, because the Gulf states and our other trading partners are now buying up $2 trillion in U.S. Treasury bonds and debt. So, in other words, they’re recycling the money back and paying for George Bush’s spending spree on ending inheritance taxes, you know, several wars, etc.

Now, Hugo Chavez says, “I’ll give you cheap oil, not only to the poor, but to everyone. But I’m not giving you back the money. That money is going to stay in Latin America to build our nations.” And he just withdrew $20 billion out of the U.S. Federal Reserve. You have to understand, this is a punch in the face of the U.S. administration, far more than withholding oil, withholding and withdrawing petrodollars, as I explain in the book, and that’s why you have that little nice floater from — balloon thrown out by Reverend Robertson, Pat Robertson, saying “Hugo Chavez thinks we’re trying to assassinate him, and I think we ought to just go and do it,” because they have got to get that — it’s not that they need that oil, they need that oil money. And if they can’t get it, they have to eliminate Hugo Chavez.

AMY GOODMAN: Is the war in Iraq a war for oil?

GREG PALAST: Is the war in Iraq for oil? Yes, it’s about the oil, but not for the oil. In my investigations for Armed Madhouse, I ended up with a story far more fascinating and difficult than I imagined. We didn’t go in to grab the oil. Just the opposite. We went in to control the oil and make sure we didn’t get it. It goes back to 1920, when the oil companies sat in a room in Brussels in a hotel room, drew a red line around Iraq and said, “There’ll be no oil coming out of that nation.” They have to suppress oil coming out of Iraq. Otherwise, the price of oil will collapse, and OPEC and Saudi Arabia will collapse.

And so, what I found, what I discovered that they’re very unhappy about is a 323-page plan, which was written by big oil, which is the secret but official plan of the United States for Iraq’s oil, written by the big oil companies out of the James Baker Institute in coordination with a secret committee of the Council on Foreign Relations. I know it sounds very conspiratorial, but this is exactly how they do it. It’s quite wild. And it’s all about a plan to control Iraq’s oil and make sure that Iraq has a system, which, quote, “enhances its relationship with OPEC.” In other words, the whole idea is to maintain the power of OPEC, which means maintain the power of Saudi Arabia.

And this is one of the reasons they absolutely hate Hugo Chavez. As you’ll see in next week’s Harper’s coming out, which is basically an excerpt from the book, Hugo Chavez on June 1st is going to ask OPEC to officially recognize that he has more oil than Saudi Arabia. This is a geopolitical earthquake. And the inside documents from the U.S. Department of Energy, which we have in the book and in Harper’s, say, yeah, he’s got more oil than Saudi Arabia.

AMY GOODMAN: And is it accessible?

GREG PALAST: That’s the trick. It’s accessible, but the price of oil — it’s heavy oil, which means it costs about — you need oil to be about $30 a barrel, less than half of what it is now. Chavez says, “Cut a deal with me. Oil will never drop below a minimum price, but we’ll get off this insane world-destroying $75 a barrel. I’ll give you cheap oil, but you just put a floor under it.” He shook hands with Bill Clinton on the deal. And Bush came in and spit on his hand, to say the least. He had the guy kidnapped back in 2002. Bush does not — you have to remember, he doesn’t like cheap oil. When we talk about paying $3-a-gallon gasoline, Bush’s benefactors, donors and his own family collects the $3 a gallon.

AMY GOODMAN: What do you mean?

GREG PALAST: Well, we’re paying three bucks a gallon. ExxonMobil is collecting $3 a gallon. There’s a chapter called “Trillion-Dollar Babies.” When Bush came in, we had oil as low as $18 a barrel. It was like water. Bush has successfully built up the price of oil from 18 bucks a barrel to over $70 a barrel. That’s the “mission accomplished.” He didn’t make a mistake here. That’s the “mission accomplished.”

ExxonMobil, which after Enron is the biggest lifetime donor to the Bush campaigns, its value of its reserves, of its oil reserves, because of the Bush wars and Bush actions, has gone up by almost exactly $1 trillion in value. Just one company. A trillion-dollar windfall to a single company. That’s the Bush benefactors. And you have to look at where’s Bush make his money.

Go read the whole thing.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by adswithoutproducts

May 16, 2006 at 10:39 pm


leave a comment »

I am, quite happily, heading far afield from my usual paths of thought and research. Summer-time. Reading Charles Stross’s Accelerando, which you can read right this very minute via a download from Stross’s personal site.

This free ebook edition is made available by kind consent of my publishers, Ace and Orbit, under a Creative Commons license with certain restrictions attached. In particular, you may not create derivative works or use the work for commercial gain.

That’s putting your CC money where your CC mouth is.

Anyway, it’s a nifty novel, and way thought provoking. And, a bit weirdly, it delves (more deeply than I) into some of the issues that I’ve been tapping at here. Namely this and this

In fact, the epigraph of the second section comes from John Von Neurmann, of the Von Neumann bottleneck below…

Life is a process which may be abstracted from other media.

– John Von Neumann

Anyway, I’m through the first section of the novel and will try to report a bit more as I get further in. But for now, a paragraph or two from wikipedia on Von Neumann’s economic work, and the minimax concept:

His first significant contribution was the minimax theorem of 1928. This theorem establishes that in certain so-called zero sum games (games in which the winnings of one player are equal and contrary to the losses of his opponent) involving perfect information (in which, that is, each player knows a priori both the strategies of their opponent as well as their consequences), there exists one strategy which allows both players to minimize their maximum losses (hence the name minimax). In particular, for every possible strategy of his own, a player must consider all the possible responses of his adversary and the maximum loss that he could derive. He then plays out the strategy which will result in the minimization of this maximum loss. Such a strategy, which minimizes the maximum loss, is called optimal for both players just in case their minimaxes are equal (in absolute value) and contrary (in sign). If the common value is zero, the game becomes pointless.

Von Neumann eventually improved and extended the minimax theorem to include games involving imperfect information and games with more than two players. This work culminated in the 1944 classic The Theory of Games and Economic Behavior (written with Oskar Morgenstern).

Sounds almost like a materialist ethics, a morality of realism.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by adswithoutproducts

May 15, 2006 at 2:08 am

though capable of transmitting shocks in China

leave a comment »

There’s got to be something to say about this. I’m going to save it away for future use, but it’s certainly a symptom of something, no?

What needs to be thought through, perhaps, is not so much the idea of some sort of collective consciousness, some sort of transindividual noosphere, as they have it, which surely exists on some level interesting or utterly banal, but what is at stake in materializing it? Why do we need it to exist “out there,” “in the air,” measurable at times of affect and panic like 9/11. What is it that we don’t or can’t believe about ourselves that he need nodes collecting data, mining out the possibility that we are all in it together?

In the worst case, perhaps it comes out like this:

The car had gone, but it had left a slight ripple which flowed through glove shops and hat shops and tailors’ shops on both sides of Bond Street. For thirty seconds all heads were inclined the same way–to the window. Choosing a pair of gloves–should they be to the elbow or above it, lemon or pale grey?–ladies stopped; when the sentence was finished something had happened. Something so trifling in single instances that no mathematical instrument, though capable of transmitting shocks in China, could register the vibration; yet in its fulness rather formidable and in its common appeal emotional; for in all the hat shops and tailors’ shops strangers looked at each other and thought of the dead; of the flag; of Empire. In a public house in a back street a Colonial insulted the House of Windsor which led to words, broken beer glasses, and a general shindy, which echoed strangely across the way in the ears of girls buying white underlinen threaded with pure white ribbon for their weddings. For the surface agitation of the passing car as it sunk grazed something very profound.

The GCP people have a page on the “Poetic History” of their project (links funny – go look around. Or don’t.) And they totally miss all the good (complicating?) stuff like this…

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by adswithoutproducts

May 13, 2006 at 12:23 am

Posted in consciousness, woolf

not architecture

leave a comment »

From an interview (not as yet online) with Oscar Niemeyer in this month’s Metropolis:

You built you personal driver’s house in a favela here in Rio. Is it a good example of architecture helping those who are excluded?

Yes, but we are talking here about my driver – my dear friend for more than half a century. He is a Brazilian man, a poor man, one who was born poor and will die poor. Of course his life is improved with his new house, but this is an exception. Housing is always the beginning of any change in someone’s life. One needs to have a worthy place to live, and the state should provide it to everybody. But I insist that the answer to this change is not architecture. It is revolution.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by adswithoutproducts

May 12, 2006 at 11:38 pm

Posted in architecture, socialism

where everything is possible

with 4 comments

Usually the Times reserves this sort of obnoxiousness for Latin American leftists who, say, spend oil money on schools for poor children, rather than what oil money is supposed to be spent on: bunker-busting nukes, hummers, and mexicans to tend to the gardens.

The problem with French universities, it seems, is that:

1) they lack the landscaping budget of Harvard or Stanford

2) Unlike in America, where we educate the whole student, and there is a bountiful basket of extracurricular activities to participate in, the French leave their students to their own devices after class is over.

There are 32,000 students at the Nanterre campus of the University of Paris, but no student center, no bookstore, no student-run newspaper, no freshman orientation, no corporate recruiting system.

3) the f’ing soixiante-huitards made it so everyone can attend.

“Universities are factories,” said Christine le Forestier, 24, a 2005 graduate of Nanterre with a master’s degree who has not found a stable job. “They are machines to turn out thousands and thousands of students who have learned all about theory but nothing practical. A diploma is worth nothing in the real world.”

The problems stem in part from the student revolts of May 1968, which grew out of an unexceptional event at Nanterre the year before. One March evening, male students protesting the sexual segregation of the dormitories occupied the women’s dormitory and were evicted by the police.

A year later, Nanterre students protesting the war in Vietnam occupied the administration building, the first such action by students at a French university. The student revolt spread, turning into a mass movement aimed at transforming the authoritarian, elitist French system of governance. Ultimately 10 million workers left their jobs in a strike that came close to forcing de Gaulle from power.

One result was that the country’s university system guaranteed a free — or almost free — college education to every high school graduate who passed the baccalauréat exam. University enrollment soared. The value of a bachelor’s degree plummeted..

4) The university system is defined by a distinction between good schools and all the rest.

Compounding the problem, France is caught between its official promotion of the republican notion of equality and its commitment to the nurturing of an elite cadre of future leaders and entrepreneurs.

Only 4 percent of French students make it into the most competitive French universities — the public “grandes écoles.” But the grandes écoles, along with a swath of semiprivate preparatory schools, absorb 30 percent of the public budget.

Thank god we don’t have anything like that over here. Just ask my students last year – 12 a semester, who benefited from more than a page of comments on 8 separate writing assignments and several hours of individual meetings with me to discuss their writing. Or my students this year, at the state university (a rather “good,” if underfunded one), whose upper-level English class featured an enrollment of 45, no teaching assistants, and who received the all feedback on their work that it was possible for me to give… Not very much. No grandes écoles over here, praise be.

In America, educational resources are rationally distributed by the market so that each and every deserving student receives exactly the same slice of the pie, from Harvard down to the lowliest community college. What a country!

5) The students are morons, who fail to understand the glorious liberation that comes with a tiny bit of flexibilté

At Nanterre, Alexandre Frydlender, 19, a second-year student in law and history, complained about the lack of courses in English for students of international law. But asked whether he would be willing to pay a higher fee for better services, he replied: “The university is a public service. The state must pay.”

A poster that hangs throughout the campus halls echoed that sentiment: “To study is a right, not a privilege.”

6) The nation as a whole has failed to understand just how great things are going over here

But flexibility is not at all the tradition in France, where students are put on fixed career tracks at an early age.

“We are caught in a world of limits where there’s no such thing as the self-made man,” said Claire de la Vigne, a graduate of Nanterre who is now doing graduate work at the much more prestigious Institut d’Études Politiques de Paris. “We are never taught the idea of the American dream, where everything is possible. Our guide is fear.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by adswithoutproducts

May 12, 2006 at 1:23 am

marx’s translation of bovary

with 2 comments

Was just answering a question about my favorite novel for a grad student who’s writing on it, and had to check something in the text, and noticed something a little bit amazing.

The English edition of Madame Bovary hosted by Gutenberg was translated by none other than Eleanor Marx… Karl Marx’s youngest daughter. I had no idea. I probably should have known, but I didn’t…

Here’s an interesting bit by E.P. Thompson on her.

And here’s Beatrice Potter (later, Beatrice Webb) on a meeting with her in 1883.

Went in the afternoon to British Museum and met Miss Marx in the refreshment rooms. Daughter of Karl Marx, socialist writer and refugee. Gains her livelihood by teaching literature, and writing for socialist newspapers. In person she is comely, dressed in a slovenly picturesque way with curly hair flying about in all directions. Fine eyes full of life and sympathy, otherwise ugly features and expression with complexion showing the signs of an unhealthy excited life, kept up with stimulants and tempered by narcotics. Lives alone, is much connected with Bradlaugh set, evidently peculiar views on love, etc., and I should think has somewhat ‘Natural’ relations with men! Should fear that the chances were against her remaining long within the pale of “respectable” society.


An excellent collection of her writings, including the Flaubert and some Ibsen plays…

Nice! Barnes and Noble gave me a coupon for a free book from their in-house line of “classics” – apparently, I’m an “educator” and they think I could be switched from my beloved Penguins. It’s been sitting in my wallet for months. Finally have something to spend it on.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by adswithoutproducts

May 10, 2006 at 12:53 am

Posted in flaubert, socialism


with one comment

From Wikipedia:

Von Neumann bottleneck

The separation between the CPU and memory leads to what is known as the von Neumann bottleneck. The throughput (data transfer rate) between the CPU and memory is very small in comparison with the amount of memory. In modern machines, throughput is very small in comparison with the rate at which the CPU itself can work. Under some circumstances (when the CPU is required to perform minimal processing on large amounts of data), this gives rise to a serious limitation in overall effective processing speed. The CPU is continuously forced to wait for vital data to be transferred to or from memory. As CPU speed and memory size have increased much faster than the throughput between the two, the bottleneck has become more and more of a problem.

The term “von Neumann bottleneck” was coined by John Backus in his 1977 ACM Turing award lecture. According to Backus:

“Surely there must be a less primitive way of making big changes in the store than by pushing vast numbers of words back and forth through the von Neumann bottleneck. Not only is this tube a literal bottleneck for the data traffic of a problem, but, more importantly, it is an intellectual bottleneck that has kept us tied to word-at-a-time thinking instead of encouraging us to think in terms of the larger conceptual units of the task at hand. Thus programming is basically planning and detailing the enormous traffic of words through the von Neumann bottleneck, and much of that traffic concerns not significant data itself, but where to find it.”

And now Woolf in To the Lighthouse:

How then did it work out, all this? How did one judge people, think of them? How did one add up this and that and conclude that it was liking one felt or disliking? And to those words, what meaning attached, after all? Standing now, apparently transfixed, by the pear tree, impressions poured in upon her of those two men, and to follow her thought was like following a voice which speaks too quickly to be taken down by one’s pencil, and the voice was her own voice saying without prompting undeniable, everlasting, contradictory things, so that even the fissures and humps on the bark of the pear tree were irrevocably fixed there for eternity.

Thinking about literary modernism – “stream of consciousness” narration and the like – as a problem of bandwidth or “data transfer rate,” just as, in a sense, consciousness itself is during this period, for Freud and Bergson and others, an issue that boils down to how many sense impressions / repressed memories can fit through the very narrow pipe. Woolf struggles in To the Lighthouse to get it all down, chokes the text with data, so that across (despite) all the abundance of detail we feel all that is being left out, all that can’t make it into the text.

(I’m not going to bring it all into this post, but searching for the word “word” in the text is, well, very revealing…)

And something else – thinking about this bit from the quote above:

Not only is this tube a literal bottleneck for the data traffic of a problem, but, more importantly, it is an intellectual bottleneck that has kept us tied to word-at-a-time thinking instead of encouraging us to think in terms of the larger conceptual units of the task at hand.

And this, from Lukács:

The greatest discrepancy between idea and reality [in the novel of romantic disillusionment] is time: the process of time as duration. The most profound and most humiliating impotence of subjectivity consists not so much in its hopeless struggle against the lack of idea in social forms and their human representatives, as in the fact that it cannot resist the sluggish, yet constant process of time; that it must slip down, slowly yet inexorably, from the peaks it has laboriously scaled; that time – that ungraspable, invisibly moving substance – gradually robs subjectivity of all its possessions and imperceptibly forces alien contents into it. That is why only the novel, the literary form of the transcendent homelessness of the idea, includes real time – Bergson’s durée – among its constitutive principles.

The novel – or really, literature in general – now as the materialization of the human inability to think/say/write more than one word at a time. Only now, with machines that promise/threaten/already do “think” or “process” everything all at once, once and for all, can we see the secret pathos that lives within the form.

As of now, the computer retains its romanesque form, its all too human handicap (from Wikipedia again):

Cache between CPU and main memory helps to alleviate some of the performance issues of the von Neumann bottleneck. Additionally, the developement of branch prediction algorithms has helped to mitigate this problem. It is less clear whether the intellectual bottleneck that Backus criticized has changed much since 1977. Backus’s proposed solution has not had a major influence. Modern functional programming and object-oriented programming are much less geared towards pushing vast numbers of words back and forth than earlier languages like Fortran, but internally, that is still what computers spend much of their time doing.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by adswithoutproducts

May 5, 2006 at 12:17 am