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Handke does advert-people a few times in TWoftheW:

Walking across the city. In the gaps left open by the masses of cars there are still a few isolated individuals, ashen pale or flushed, in incompatible states, and these people have subjected themselves to politics or world history, and amid the technological din they go around posing (like the figures shown in architectural drawings) at the foot of gigantic buildings, which are the essential while they are mere incidentals; moving through this catastrophe as through an underground hangar, I try to breathe everything in through my eyes, to preserve within me the forlorness of these people.

Here’s another:

Advertisements for houses in artificial villages (“domaines“). The accompanying sketches show the latest conception of paradise: a father beaming from ear to ear as he strolls down a garden path with a child on his shoulders; slanting beach umbrellas; outside the house, slim young men arrange chairs for a party: “Here you will live from year’s end to year’s end as if you were on vacation” (none of the figures in these sketches has both feet on the ground – they are much too happy for that)

Brilliant, that last parenthetical bit. Hard to say just where the interest in these figures comes from, though I’ve tried before. One shouldn’t talk about fiction in general trying to do things, i.e. awarding the genre itself with desires and aspirations, but I do believe / pretend that it has been trying to enact a nearly impossible foreground / background reversal for quite awhile now. These ad-people

Written by adswithoutproducts

January 12, 2010 at 1:20 pm

Posted in ads, aggregate, fiction, handke

notes on the aggregate 1: letraset mirror-stage

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1. Unexpectedly ended up spending the day in the hospital Wednesday – my wife needed some more surgery four weeks after all of this. She’s OK, or she will be eventually… But a frustrating way to spend a day for all involved, especially her. So it was a busy day, fraught with anxieties large and small – what do we do with the three-year-old while we’re there? What happens if the little one needs to be bottlefed? What will they find when they examine? How safe is general anaesthesia? Another day thick with dramatic tension following upon several years of the same sort of thing.

But hospitals have a strange effect upon the individual in the throes of the dramatic day. The hospital in question today had some 16 floors, some of which were populated by perhaps 30 patients, others more like 200 patients. A couple thousand cases of people (patients, loved ones, health workers) all in the middle of dramatic occurances – pain, morbidity, despair, elation, amputation, diagnosis, last rites. When in a large hospital in the middle of your busy day, the elevator cars becomes chapels of impersonalization. Your plight, your anxiety, is nothing compared to the people getting off on the eleventh floor – the young peoples in-patient area. Or wherever. There are several thousand of you. A hundred of you will experience mortality, tragedy. It doesn’t quite take the edge off, but it does put things in perspective, the aggregation of trauma.

2. The major moment of my involvement the day’s affairs came when (just like four weeks ago) I had to keep an unweaned and generally quite hungry baby girl asleep during the duration of the surgery lest she, as she of course would if she awoke, start screaming for a breast that ten floors down on an operating table. So I paced the room while holding her, back and forth, half of the time looking at the door of the room and the other half looking at this.

It’s a lovely view from up there. For those unfamiliar with Bloomsbury, that’s  the Wellcome Trust dead ahead, the Euston bus terminal and a smidgen of Euston station in the middle left, and in the distance the reddish one is the British Library. St. Pancras and Kings Cross Stations are a bit hard to see, but they’re there, smudgily. For someone more familiar with New York, it is somewhat astounding to think that you can get a more or less full panorma of the city from the thirteenth floor of a building more or less in the middle of the city. Here’s the other side, taken from an elevator bank, looking towards Tottenham Court Road right below, past Fitzroy Square in the middle on the left, and toward Marylebone and Paddington and everything else to the west.

I spend a good amount of my weekday life on the streets in the foreground of these two shots. In buildings and open spaces clearly visible from where I was pacing, I have purchased books, been interviewed for a job, received a phone call to say that I had a job, lectured students, tutored tutees, greeted long absent friends, drank in pubs alone and with friends and with students and with colleagues, eaten lunch, spent several nights in shitty hotel rooms because I’d been a drunken fool, attended communism conferences, gotten my hair cut, had heartfelt conversations late at night with my wife, had heartfelt conversations with others, purchased endless cafe lattes and copies of The Guardian, stumbled home drunk, received free of charge countless copies of the londonpaper, made angry and apolegetic phone calls while pacing in the parks, worked on articles and monographs and talks, picked someone up when they drunkenly fell on the pavement, taken books out of two libraries, wrote half of one novel and a third of another as well as countless poems, tried to find free internet access, smoked thousands of cigarettes, and lots else. Lots else both boring and sublime. I’ve had an impossibly busy year and a half in London. And almost everything down on the street, these things that I’ve done, felt so incredibly vivid. Often, the vividness of the events seemed to border on legibility or even scriptability – especially the obvious ones, you can pick them out of the list for yourself.

But from up here, thirteen floors up, everything seems different, doesn’t it? My wife and I watched window-washers scaling the building opposite, but aside from them, everyone else is antlike and thus a bit robotic-looking. People walk from work to the Underground. People carry objects from a store back to their office or towards home. Cars circle blocks – you can’t tell if it’s the same cab endlessly circling or different ones each time around. From up high, mankind goes about the motions, in aggregate. The follow scent trails from hive to food source and back again. There is no interiority, hideous or beatific, to deal with from up here. From up here, in short, the world is unnovelistic, and it’s an odd experience to look down panoptically at the places where your life is ordinarily lived and lived densely.

3. I am fascinated by, have long be taken with, the doubleness (the duplicity?) of modernism. When we talk about, say, modernist architecture, we generally mean planning and rationalisation, efficiency and redistribution. We mean the anti-aesthetic, the anti-ornamental, the flatly utopian. On the other hand, when we think about modernism in the sense that I am paid to think about it, that is to say in a literary sense, we generally mean something quite different. Modernist novels, famously, take up the issue of the interior regions, the unheard but somehow overheard subverbal chatter. Dalloway or Ulysses seem, at least on first and many subsequent glances, to herald a new, and newly intense, emphasis on psychology, the gears working in the individual as the individual navigates her or his everyday life.

My academic work tries to square the circle a bit, bridge the gap, and wonder what is frilless and impersonal about personality, what is objective and anti-individualistic about something like style indirect libre, and what is suggestively collectivist about dispersal, introspection, and hyperbolic selfhood.

4. I don’t have the books that I need at home with me, so the theoretical interlude might be a bit scattershot and from memory. But if I am right, and I might be, there is some major rethinking ahead of us on the question of the relationship between the bird’s eye view and the secret history. (Left-oriented) cultural, literary, and political theory has for decades and decades been incoherent on this point. We fantasize about post-individuality, yet we still privilege the literature of the flaneur. We sanctify dispersed, individualized resistance, and we withhold from ourselves the thought of the structure or state, even as we at the same moment would have no time for the neurotic, bumbling avatar of bourgeois modernity, the autonomous individual.

We take up, reflexively, the cause of Michel de Certeau’s tactical against the strategic. Just think of contemporary forms of protest and the response to protest and our responses to their responses. But we do this despite the fact that the entire tide of history has washed toward the man of the street and his whims as the only arbiters of truth and efficiency worth banking on, as it were. As with so many other left concepts and approaches, we meet the opposition on their own ground, not ours. We even might say we allow ourselves to get kettled – willingly jump into the pot that they have long since set to boil.

5. There is a much, much wider question about the relationship of literature and quasi-literary products and politics that we would do well to if not answer at least preoccupy ourselves with, keep very much open. It is at once a simple and extremely complex question, and it goes something like this. Do we take literary and quasi-literary representation to be first and foremost a critical approach to social representation, one that shows how things are so that we might know how things are and thus find ourselves activitated to change them? This is the standard approach to the problem, and has been for a long, long time. If one writes seriously about the atomized self, one inevitably (following the natural gradients of literary production) will end up displaying the perils of atomized selfhood. It is hard to find literature that is meant to celebrate that which it represents.

But despite the fact that we have long since been preoccupied with the critical use value of literary representation, there is another answer – a murky one that we’re all familiar with, one that will seem obvious and true as soon as I say it, even if we have a much harder time formally acknowledging it. That is, literary representation, at times or perhaps always, also serves as an advertisement – a positive advertisement – for certain ways of being, acting, seeing or thinking. Again, this is probably at once too simple and too complex to go into fully here, but it is clear that for all the critical energies brought to bear by, say, modernist literature on the plight of the prewritten self in all its abyssal reflexivity and determination, modernist literature also performed a sort of advocacy – we might say, hesitantly, aestheticisation – of the selfsame situation. Literature holds up for emulation just what it is in the process of tearing down. It shows the world to be changed, unbearably changed, and in doing so accustoms us to the same change that it is otherwise resisting. Such is the conservative modernism (modernism this time with a small m, or something with a large one) of the literary endeavor itself.

So it does two things, two contradictory things, at once. Sometimes it works in oscillating phases, other times an intensive simultaneity. But there is no possible movement forward on a rethinking of literary aesthetics that doesn’t come to grips with this question in all it’s complexity.

6. Narrative works have always, but especially since the advent of modernity, been preoccupied with the individual and her or his actions, reasons, feelings, and outcomes. There is a boy and he meets a girl, and they feel X about each other but Y about the world and then…. something happens. Of course, though, despite their dependency upon the story of the individual or individuals, novels and stories always stage their people playing out their lives against a backdrop, a backdrop which includes things and places but also people – large or small numbers of people sketched in great or less great detail.

Other forms – those privileged by the media and disciplines that tend toward the topographic rather than individual, the strategic rather than the tactical per Michel de Certeau – reverse these poles. The surroundings (things, places, groups) move to the fore, and the individual is left to be represented only abstractly, as a type – metaphorically or literally a cut-out.

We might even want to take up a somewhat complex (between it relies on a twist) chiastic analogy like this: the background welter of fiction is to the individual as the letraset figure is to the architectural plan.

Once letraset goes CAD, humans even grow pixelated shadows and depending on the processing power that generated them, even start to see their own reflections in the mirrored glass. (Image courtesy of IT).

We can anticipate – it has been anticipated, actually – that the letraset people will one day soon have little digitized minds of their own. They will head our into the planned cities in which they live to do all of things that we do in the cities where we live, all the things that I described above and more. They will shop for food and vintage clothes, they will conduct their love affairs in pubs and flats and streamlined hotels in city centres, they will make tough decisions about their jobs, birth children in hospitals and watch their loved ones die.

7. I am starting, but only just starting to be able to imagine a meeting point between the architectural plan and the psychological fiction, between the sentient letraset people and the background materials of the realist novel. This meeting point is something that I am getting used to calling aggregate fiction. It is important to note that it already exists, perhaps has existed right from the start, in half-forms and hybrids, false starts and imperfect versions. The trick would be to pull it forward and make it stand on its own.

In the next post in this series, I’ll discuss among other things, the difference between the mass and the aggregate, the complicated politics of this potential form, and start to build out (hesitantly) a literary genealogy of what I’m talking about and/or looking for.

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May 25, 2009 at 8:31 pm

the “fictional” people of austerity

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Screen Shot 2015-08-19 at 09.37.54

The Guardian leads today with a story about the DWP using “fabricated quotations” from “fictional people” talking “about their positive experiences of the welfare system.” It is the sort of story that raises all sort of interesting issues about what “fiction” is and how it functions in a situation like this. For instance, what do we make of this apology / retraction from the DWP itself:

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It’s a curious phrasing: “… they were illustrative only.” Only as opposed to what? How would one complete the sentence? The most obvious answer is “as opposed to ‘real,'” which leads to a curious collision between realness of the person in question and what wisdom we can take from their example. Or do they mean “as opposed to “evidentiary”? That is, to rephrase it, “These people are not real people but merely examples of how one ought to comport oneself under austerity.”

Further, the changes that the DWP initially made in response to the furore over the fake stories are revelatorily strange in and of themselves. This is from the printed version of the story (more on changes between the print and the evidently revised story available on-line in a minute):

Before the removal of the second version of the leaflet, a spokesman said: “We have temporarily changed the pictures to silhouettes and added a note to make it more clear that these are illustrative examples only. We will test both versions of the factsheet with claimants and external stakeholders to further improve it in the future. This will include working with external organisations.”

That the names can stay, albeit then pinged by explanatory asterisks, but the stock art images have been turned into “silhouettes” is curious too, as if the DWP is probing the limits and lines where a “real (but fake) story” turns into a generic anecdote before turning into, well, simply a non-narrative command. Zac (pictured) says… turns into “Zac” says… on its way to something said without a claimant saying it, what the DWP was trying to say with its fictional sock-puppets all along: We’d like you to thank us for withdrawing your benefits, as it’s for you own good (even if we can’t find any examples of this being the case…) In short, these morphing pseudo-people – who have, in a short period been revised into shadows before disappearing all together – do seem like the appropriate protagonists for austerity policies that have always been buttressed by the anecdotal false-equivalent (the nation is like a household) and the spectral fictional “type” (the welfare queen, the “benefits migrant” etc).

Even the Guardian itself seems a bit confused by the ontological status of these austerity-drunk pseudo-people. Lot’s seems to have been edited from the print version of the story to the one currently posted on-line – almost as if the newspaper had caught a case of revision and re-revision from the DWP itself. In the print version, for instance, this is the third paragraph of the story:

The fictional person called Sarah was quoted as saying that she had lost some of her benefit because she had initially failed to produce a CV. “I didn’t think a CV would help me but my work coach told me that all employers need one. I didn’t have a good reason for not doing it and I was told I’d lose some of my payment,” she said.

But in the version that currently exists on-line, the first line of the paragraph is changed to:

“Sarah” was quoted as saying that she had lost some of her benefit because she had initially failed to produce a CV.

Whether these un- or pseudo- people are “fictional person[s] called” X or Y or they are just names encased in scare-quotes or locked in a rictus grin of clip art compliance, they are the secret sharers, it seems to me, of those letraset (and post-letraset) people that appear in advertisements for new real estate developments who have been an obsession of mine for a long time.

Screen Shot 2015-08-19 at 10.21.34

Just as our speculative economy seems to be populated by these shadowy denizens of luxury flats that are always on the verge of opening, often never literally present in their concrete and glass inventions, perhaps the DWP’s fictional protagonists are an in a eerie sense a spectral “reserve army of labour” haunting the real reserve army. Instead of the idealised “model workers” and “new men” of socialism, we are beginning to live in a world of model victims of precarity – those Zacs and Sarahs who thank the government for withdrawing their dole to teach them a lesson about the value of updating their CVs and who thank the DWP for allowing them “time off” to visit the hospital.

In this sense, the propaganda of the institutions of austerity darkly echoes Brecht’s joke in his poem Die Lösung:

Screen Shot 2015-08-19 at 10.25.50

In this case, rather than electing another “people,” the DWP has gone ahead and composed one out of clip art and generic names.

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August 19, 2015 at 10:31 am

mass arousal on the tgv: aggregate, anticipatory fiction

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Just read a story, if that’s the word, called “This is for you” by Emmanuel Carrère in the new issue of Granta. It’s not online, and likely never to be… So unfortunately if you want to read it you’re going to have to shell out the (outrageous! though maybe they’re actually paying their authors, who knows) £12.99 / $18.99 for issue 110. (Shhh… If you ask nicely maybe I’ll play about with the new departmental pdf-capable photocopier on Monday and see what I can do…*) I’m trying to look into this story a bit which was originally published in French and in a newspaper, having some trouble finding anything out, so I’m a bit vague on some of the details, but let me try to describe it to you very very briefly.

Basically, the “story” takes the shape of a sort of public letter to Carrère’s lover “Sophie.” Apparently the story first appeared in a summer fiction supplement in Le Monde, and, according to what’s written here, Carrère arranged for it to be published on a specific day when Sophie would be traveling by train to visit him on the Ile de Ré in the west of France. The new issue of Le Monde will have just appeared as she’s about to board the train and he anticipates that she’ll buy it and turn to the supplement to see what he’s written. But what the letter consists of are a series of basically masturbational instructions for Sophie to follow, think about this, touch that, and so on. The kink is that, due to  Carrère’s precise planning of the whole affair, there would likely be a large number of people on the same train reading the same “story” as she read it… Toward the end he has her go to the cafe car, the trick being that anyone who was on the train and who got the timing right might well show up looking for this ostensibly sexually aroused woman following a publically published set of erotic instructions… And then who knows what happens after that…

It’s a bit parlor-trickish, isn’t it, and a kind of banal version of the sort of thing that you might expect from a biographer of Philip K. Dick. But there’s also something interesting about it, even if it’s not what Carrère thinks is interesting about it. He thinks that the story is about the performative function of language:

I like literature to be effective; ideally, I want it to be performative, in the sense in which linguists define a performative statement, the classic example being the sentence ‘I declare war’, which instantly means war has been declared. One might argue that of all literary genres, pornography is the one that most closely approaches that ideal: reading “You’re getting wet”, makes you get wet.

But of course he’s wrong about this, or not quite right. “I declare war” or “By the powers granted to me by the great state of New Jersey, I now pronounce you man and wife” are of a different nature than what he’s up to here. The problem is this: imperatives (“get wet”) or wishful descriptions (“bet you’re getting wet now”) are not phrases that are actions, they implore or anticipate action without of course necessarily having the power to provoke the action itself. That’s because the performative is about power – I just said “I declare war on South London” out loud in my kitchen, but as far as I can tell no bombs are falling on or around Clapham Common.

So he’s wrong. But actually he’s on to something interesting, even if he misunderstands what it is in part because he lacks the language that he needs to understand it. I’ve been working on and off for a year now on a theorization of something that I am calling aggregate fiction – here are some of the posts in that line. As Carrère’s story (and, if it works, Sophie) gets to the café car, it leaves behind the close attention to her subjective response to work with a broader character set. But look at how he establishes the shift:

In real life, a writer might sometimes see a stranger reading his book in a public place, but that doesn’t happen often; it’s not something you can count on. Quite a few passengers on this train certainly do read Le Monde, however. Let’s do the maths. France has 60 million inhabitants; Le Monde‘s print run is 600,000 copies; it’s readers thus represent 1 per cent of the population. The proportion of readers on the Paris-La Rochelle high-speed train on a Saturday afternoon in July must be much higher, and I’d be tempted to jump it up to 10 per cent. So we get roughly 10 per cent of the passengers, most of whom – because today have the time – will at least take a look at the short-story supplement, just to see. I don’t want to seem immodest, but the chances of these just-taking-a-look passengers reading all the way to the end hover in my opinion around 100 per cent, for the simple reason that when there’s ass involved, people read to the end; that’s how it is. So about 10 per cent of your fellow passengers are reading, have read, or will read these instructions during the three hours you will all spend on the train. […] There’s a one-in-ten chance – I’m probably exaggerating but not by much – that the person beside you is at this moment reading the same thing you are. And if not the person next to you, someone close by.

This is the sort of thing that I’m interested in. A shift of fictional attention from the deeply explored single (or coupled) subjectivities to the informed but ultimately intuitive anticipation of  statistically-aggregated subjectivities. The odds are that… It’s a way of changing the number of fiction without simply backing off into a panoptic wide-angled mass image. Neither simply the teeming crowd and its patterns, nor the classical bourgeois interiority, but an aggregation of anticipatory selves – educatedly guessed though never quite circumscribed. The scene that Carrère imagines at the conclusion of his piece – a group of random yet predictable Le Monde readers, assembled in the café car of the TGV to La Rochelle attempting to figure out which one was Sophie, then drifting off to masturbate singly yet also in the company (across closed toilet doors) of others who know the game that’s on – seems to me to be an anticipation of an alternative frame for fiction, one that does the math and then sketches out the probabilities. It’s not the performative so much as the probable, it forethinks assemblies of individuals rather than presumes the centrality of this or that self. Its characters are ghostly, futural beings, like the CAD people in real estate advertisements, there because they’re bound to be rather than simply because we suspend disbelief and learn to indulge ourselves in ourselves by solipsistic proxy.

The problem with aggregate fiction, this thing that I’ve been trying to describe for a year now, is that the actually existing examples are wonderful pieces of prose. Carrère’s story is tacky, a bit creepy, and generally bound to put people off rather than turn them on. Still, I’m going to keep cataloging what I find, in the hopes that I might be able to

* Some question in my mind why I shouldn’t simply scan the story in and freely distribute it to you – it’d be to every party’s benefit I’m sure. I could talk about it without extensive redescription, you could of course read it, but most importantly (from the legal-economic perspective) several hundred readers, probably none of whom I’m guessing (just as Carrère does with Le Monde) subscribe to Granta, would be introduced to the magazine as a possible source of interesting stuff to think about. The temporality of blog reading suggests that any sales the magazine accrues will come on future issues, not my readers sprinting to their local bookshop to buy the thing to read with my post now… Hmmm…. We’ll see what happens Monday… Granta editors feel free to permission me, if you see this, in the meantime…

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April 10, 2010 at 2:28 pm

Posted in aggregate, fiction

“see what you mean”

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A famous passage from Joyce’s Portrait:

The dramatic form is reached when the vitality which has flowed and eddied round each person fills every person with such vital force that he or she assumes a proper intangible esthetic life. The personality of the artist, at first a cry or cadence or a mood and then a fluid and lambent narrative, finally refines itself out of existence, impersonalises itself, so to speak. The esthetic image in the dramatic form is purified in and reprojected from the human imagination. The mystery of esthetic like that of material creation is accomplished. The artist, like the God of the creation, remains within or behind or beyond or above his handiwork, invisible, refined out of existence, indifferent, paring his fingernails.

The ambiguity of literary modernism’s dream of “impersonal” art is brilliantly captured in the stringing together of “invisible” and “refined out of existence.” Can’t, of course, be both at the same time: either the artist is there but hidden or has actually been wrung out of the work. The oscillation between egotistical artistic supremacy and the “death of the author” is one of the rhythms that define the progression of this period’s work.

I tend to be more interested in the “no artist” side of the issue than the other, because I think a good bit of what utopian / progressivist tendencies or even side effects there are to be found in the works of such figures as Joyce and Beckett, Woolf and Proust are to be found there. And I’m also very interested in the legacy of this preoccupation on the part of the “high modernists.”

One place that we find its development, of course, are in all of the strategies of opening works to contingency and randomness practiced by fellow modernists and figures that are usually affiliated with later schools / periods. Automatic writing, from Yeats through the surrealists and onward. Burroughs’s cut-ups. All sorts of “found art” tactics. Often enough, these techniques are staked either on the “unconscious” as the black box that generates the disorder or the disorder as the means that gives access to the truths of the unconscious.

But there is another way to think about impersonality – or maybe even to do impersonal art. And while I’m sure there is precedent for this sort of idea (commenters?) – a few things I’ve been seeing around the internet and on tv have got me thinking in a different direction.

The first is this tv commercial:

It’s fairly difficult to discern what exactly this ad is meant to sell. The Dassault website is only somewhat helpful…

Sophisticated technologies tend to be the preserve of experts. Today, Dassault Systèmes wants to break with this tradition and establish 3D technology as a new universal language with applications in every walk of life. But that’s not all. At Dassault Systèmes, we also strongly believe that the more advanced and complex technology becomes, the easier it should be to use.

To express this groundbreaking vision – and the major advances we have driven in 3D technology in terms of capability, flexibility and ease of use – French advertising agency devarrieuxvillaret has created a new tagline for Dassault Systèmes:

See What You Mean.

OK… “Universal language,” eh? (Of course, Dassault is best known for making warplanes…. and for owning Le Figaro…)

At any rate, the ad is a mashup of SimCity (the bit where the building flashes red because it’s not connected up to the underground utility conduits is the deadest giveaway) and letraset type peopleoids (not sure if that’s the appropriate term for the little guys pictured below or not…)

That’s all well and good. It’s likely the sort of ad that presents a image of something not yet possible, but which, by triggering a mass-fantasy, will urge that impossible thing into existence… Not unlike the fancy computer interface in Minority Report….

But what interests me in particular about this ad is the way that it proposes a new form of fiction, not yet possible, but dreamed of, perhaps, for at least the last 150 years. (The Joyce quote is, of course, only a plagiarized version of a few passages from Flaubert’s letters). What would it be like to use a technology like the one shown in the commercial as a technology for the creation of fiction? A fiction in which the “characters” were left to roam “on their own” a preconstructed section of “reality” forged by the artist, following the imperatives wired into their advanced AI? The little people stuck in the traffic jam in the ad, the pedestrians yelling at the cars – what would it be like if we could follow them closely, “hear” what they are thinking, establish ever more complex situations to drop them into? Fiction as experiment in a sense truer than any that has ever before been attempted. Fiction, at last, opened to the contingency and unpredictability that it has crept towards, largely unsuccessfullly, during the entirely of the period that we label the “modern.”

I am not talking about machinima, not the way it is practiced now, anyway. I am not talking about “user-controlled” “characters”….

Anyway, so that’s the first trigger. Second is this, which handles things a bit differently.

“Anthroptic” is an edition of 80 hand-made artist books that represents the collaboration between new media artist Ethan Ham and writer Benjamin Rosenbaum. The book contains 8 folios that pair one image with one “chapter” of the story. The images were taken from Ethan’s online project “Self-Portraits” in which he trained a facial recognition program to his face before unleashing it onto the internet photo service Flickr. While searching the millions of photos on Flickr for its creator, the computer program sometimes made mistakes, identifying inanimate objects as Ethan. These mistake images became the starting point for Benjamin’s short short story. Benjamin weaves these images into an exquisitely interconnected tale that can be read in any order.

Scripted recognitions, epiphanies. Algorithmic revelations. That sort of thing. Robotic portraiture. You start to see where I am going here with this…

The final example came through today, via we make money not art.

(re)collector is a public art installation that approaches Cambridge as a ‘museum of the mind’, using cameras to acquire memorable images that can then be reorganised into ideas. The Greek concept of ut pictura poesis claims that poetry is more ‘imageful’ than prose. In this project, the cameras do not document Cambridge using a simple, straightforward archive of events, but rather seek to record a collection of dramatic moments. The city becomes a tableau for pictura poesis, with events amplified through combinations of framing, movement, and silence, becoming more memorable and cohesive as a result.

This interesting enough at this point, the idea of constructing “ideas” or narratives out of CCTV footage. But where things get truly fascinating comes in the next paragraph:

The gothic character of the Bridge of Sighs, King’s College Chapel and various city centre side streets present backdrops for extracting cinematic moments from peoples’ everyday activities. Surveillance cameras installed around the city, will be programmed to recognise and capture public activities including farewell scenes, meetings, escape scenes, chases, love scenes, etc. Each day over the festival, the results will be edited to produce a daily feature film, complete with premise, protagonists, locations, plot, to be viewed at a public screening in Cambridge during the festival programme. The movie’s audience is composed of many of the same people that feature in it; the project seeks to renegotiate our relationship with where we live by showing us the latent narratives embedded in our everyday lives that we cannot see.

I’d love to know exactly how the cameras are programmed to decide what a moment of fictional significance, of narrative crisis, looks like. (I certainly don’t doubt that it can be done as it is already being done). And what if instead of humans getting involved with the editing of the clips into a coherent narrative, the machine performed that task as well. Surely, the recognition of a “love scene” is more complicated than sticking the scenes together in some sort of coherent order.

I’m going to have to write a follow-up post, unfortunately, detailing the aesthetic and political ramifications I think might come of such endeavors when focused properly, as I’m too beat to continue tonight. A few of the words and phrases, though, that are hovering about in my mind include “fiction as experiment,” “(repurposed) automatic behavioral detection,” “automation for automation’s sake,” “interchangeable parts,” “autonomy vs. advertisement” and…. “(truly) socialist realism.”

More soon… Sorry to defer the punchline…

(NB: I should say that I do know that some parallel work is being done on this sort of thing by the media/body people, by, for instance. But it nevertheless seems to me that I am aiming in a slightly to very different direction than much of that very helpful work…)

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Written by adswithoutproducts

April 18, 2007 at 12:02 am