What Capital City Are You?

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I have been engaging in a daily newsletter experiment for the last 10 days. I wrote a new newsletter for 7 days and now every day I rewrite the newsletter from 7 days ago. I will probably do this for a month… at least. It is exhausting but it is transformative and becoming less exhausting.

But I still love blogging and I am trying to understand what is the difference between blogging and newslettering. I do enjoy the feedback aspect of the newsletter. Every day I see people read the newsletter, or at least open it, and some people even click on random links.

Today I had my weekly discussion on John V’s the meaning crisis. The facilitator this morning asked what capital city describes your emotional state today.

I loved this question. At first I drew a blank, but then I felt Athens! In my memories it is sun kissed and dry, filled with ruins looking back towards prior greatness, but with confidence in current potential, vitality and beauty. Athens is a city that is filled with meaning. Whatever it is that meaning is… For me it is the triumph of quality over quantity. What does every moment feel like, how is each brick its own singular brick, how is this “ruin” beautiful and singular in its on going “decay” how it is qualitatively different today, than yesterday, different from 100 years ago, 1000 years ago.

Some people said, Helsinki, Buenos Aires, Barcelona… All of these cities bring up a quality for me. They have an emotion, a personality, a singularity. I feel November in Helsinki, dark, cold and bright, blue black. I feel Buenos Aires, music and flow and broad streets, narrow streets, hidden squares and spaces, I feel Barcelona gaudi and the mediterranean and parks filled with pigeons.

In each of these feelings I feel people.

old wine in new bottles

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I think I took this line from an online sensemaking community I am part of. More on sensemaking communities in a later post. Instead I want to talk today about creating knowledge vs maintaining knowledge. This also came up in the aforementioned sensemaking community.

How important is it to be a creator versus a maintainer. There are many ways to look at this, a creator versus an audience, or a creator of open source software, versus a maintainer of open source software, versus a user. A creator of a musical piece (composer), versus an interpreter of a musical piece (musician), versus a listener (audience member).

Notice I started out with a dyad creator vs maintainer and then I moved into a trinity of creator / maintainer / participant. I did not plan that. I almost said consumer but that is really some capitalist logic and I dont like it one bit. It feels passive. It feels less important some how. There is a problem with hierarchy in this culture, perhaps in all cultures. In my job I am a consultant, most of the other people I work with are highly capable and knowledgable technicians and the roles are divided into account principals, that manage the account, technical principals that manage the delivery, and consultants that manage the implementation or execution. I see these roles as equals, and quite frankly at this point in my career I want to work with equals.

Participant I consider in terms of participatory knowing – like going to a night club or rave. You have the dancers (the party goers), the dj, and the promoter or the night club owner (the producer). The different members undergo different transformations according to their participation. Their sensations are activated differently, their bodies are engaged differently. Ok what was my point.

Ahhh, now I remember.

I am starting a new experiment some what related to this. I am writing a newsletter every day for maybe (at least) a month. Every 7 days my newsletter will be a rewrite of the newsletter I sent 7 days prior. The idea is that I am at first creating and then maintaining, not sure how I am participating, but I suppose every rewrite involves a re-read… Or perhaps a future experiment is that someone rewrites my email and I rewrite theirs. The inspiration for this newsletter will be in the first newsletter – you can signup here.

What archetype are you today?

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This sounds like a bad personal growth blog title but stay with me on this.

I went back to NYC this weekend, I had some apartment and financial things to take care of on Friday, and it seemed I had to do this in person, in NYC.

So I drove back to NYC for the first time since March 13, when I landed from Atlanta. Miraculously enough only two plants died, there were no roaches or rodents, and I saw my neighbors (through masks and social distancing).

I packed up the car with things I wanted to use for the rest of the summer: clothing, books, guitar pedals, and going up and down in the elevator stressed me out. Once this was done, I went to brooklyn to social distance with friends and then return to NYC for my 3pm meeting, or so I thought.

The day was super intense. It involved intense personal interaction, discussion of privilege (I am staying with my kids and partner at my parents for which I am very grateful), a discussion of motherhood, giving birth, love, relationships, every day things that should be easy but are now hard because of covid and nothing gets done (like floods because there is no street cleaning and the drains are clogged with leaves). It was beautiful to walk around. It was not busy because in the morning was an intense thunderstorm, and the day was overcast. People had transformed their stores to have outdoor areas to buy flowers and produce. I am not sure what will happen in the winter, but life goes on – transformed.

There was laughter, and tears. It was an intense day for me personally. It felt that I had undergone some alchemical transformation, that my body had been wrung out by my spine. My financial stuff that I had come to take care of almost did not happen, and happened on Saturday, but when I drove back Saturday midday to my parents I had this sense that an internal transformation had taken place what was it. I am not sure. It was something about relating, about love, about home, about who I am. It seems strange to say that what appears to be such a banal day could have such a transformative impact and I struggle to understand exactly what happened.

I wrote down the day. I wrote it down with images of those places from other days, or memories. Memories of beautiful and powerful moments I have: first holding my son Cass in my arms, of seeing my son Eero hiccup on the sonogram, innocent childhood games like throwing notes to the boys playing basketball at the lot next to my childhood apartment, those beginnings of a relationship when you make out with your lover in all sorts of inappropriately public places. I imagine movies that take place in a day. I always wanted to make a film like that. My favorites are The hours, The swimmer, touch of evil, American Graffiti, those before sunrise movies, pulp fiction (I think) there are so many. Here is a list from Mubi and from some clickbate listicle site.

I have this intense desire to capture the personal effects of this day but in a universal way. Whenever I retell this story it still feels personal. I am moving to transform it beyond myself.

This also coincides with a meditation I am doing this week. I am prompted to pick an archetype and embody the archetype, to live beyond my imagination. What are some archetypes? We can look at myths, at Hercules, Orpheus, Theseus, The Monkey King (sun wu kong), and so forth. As a woman, I always felt that my archetypes were somewhat limited. Who is the female Orpheus for example?

The archetype I am drawn to is the Troubadour. I have been interested in the Troubadour ever since I learned that Joseph Campbell had intensely studied the Troubadour (a youtube clip -there are a ton!). There are all kinds of love. The Troubadour is the alchemy perhaps of transforming lust (perhaps limerence) into agape (love for all human kind). The idea is that troubadours discovered, or invented, interpersonal romantic love – the seeing your soul in another person kind a of love. There is the transformative element of poetry and music in the archetype of the troubadour – of the ineffable.

Related to the the troubadour is the bard. The musician/ storyteller which I equate with the celtic traditions and in particular Robert Graves’ The White Goddess. This is the bard as the holder of some wisdom tradition or communal knowledge. Maybe could make a probably similar statement about different bardic traditions through out the world (e.g., Homer), I don’t know. This is different from the love thing that the troubadours do, but it is also appealing to me. Maybe next week will be the week of the bard.

Anyway this week is the week of the troubadour for me. I am trying to think of famous female mythological troubadours or even bards. I keep thinking of those sirens and banchee – the patriarchy loves to silence women or pathologize the female voice. So I am pursuing the troubadour this week – if anyone knows of female bardic mythological heroes let me know.

Programming and Discernment

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Recently I wrote a blog post about how programming allowed me to outsource parts of myself – maybe my integrity.

I told this to a friend who said, what do you mean by integrity? Hmm – I said. It is being undivided.

What does undivided actually mean? For me it means acting in alignment with your core. Again this is really unspecific. We can say integrity is keeping your word. We can say it is an ethical quality, someone who is ethical, someone who is truthful. My friend and a more specific definition.

What writing software did was allowed me to oursource my judgement. I did not have to worry about whether or not I was doing a good job, or any number of other qualities, everything became reduced to did the program work or not – and this was outsourced to a compiler.

I felt this as a lack of integrity since I had fractured myself, I had separated my self from my mode of judgment. But as my friend pointed out this is more about discernment. I outsourced my discernment, and thus have an undeveloped form of discernment. Again I am not sure whether or not this is true, or just a narrative I have constructed but I find it interesting. I also find the story reflects a lot of what is going on in silicon valley.

The ethical issues that have emerged, and the internal biases, the trend towards libertarianism, and so forth. All of these show two things, a reduction of the space of complexity and nuance and a lack of discernment. Algorithms and computation do not naturally create a reduction of complexity, a reduction of all problems to problems of computation is not necessarily a reduction but a transduction.

The space of computation is vast! Computation is manipulating symbols (input) according to a set of rules. Computation is an area where we can talk about correctness. Since for certain rules or problems we can expect an output based on an input. For other areas of investigation correctness perhaps does not even exist. Correctness is one aspect of computation it is not computation.

How does it feel to outsource your discernment to a computer. It feels liberating at first. There is a lot less to think about. But then you think about other things, things that are perhaps less important, and then you lack the capability to make decisions about those other things. There is an addictive feeling, to get that rush of external judgement, it does feel like a short cut – like a life hack. Who would not want that?

But we have to think about something, we have to engage with things, if we are not focused on our discernment what else are we focused on and is it as important as our discernment.

Someone from one of my groups -I am a group slut posted a link to this article about post-truth and the lack of new innovations and scientific breakthroughs. I don’t know if this is true, but it feels like it. – and I believe it is linked to this lack of discernment that happens when you start writing code. It does not have to happen, but it feels like a solve at first.

This is a spectrum of ways of judging. Philosophers have always tried to come up with an algorithm for judgement – but judgement is embodied, it is particular and it is subjective. Perhaps we can come up with a metaframework for judgment but algorithms for judgement are just reductive.

Conversations

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I am taking a two week class called Microsolidarity with The Hum. Its about building different types of relationships – dyads (relationships with two people), crews (relationships with 3 -6 people), and more. I became interested in similar group dynamics a few months ago during quarantine when I started running experiments with talking and pair programming and groups of 4 people.

I am doing a lot of meetings, we could perhaps call it facilitation, at my job. I want to increase my capabilities and modulate my interactions as I work with different configurations, or topologies of people. This is an area where I am focusing my attention at the moment.

I had never really thought about this before, but as I have mentioned in other posts, there are a bunch of tools that we can use to structure conversation. One of the interesting things I noticed today was that when I was asked to talk about a topic, I was nervous and unsure of myself, but when I was asked to describe how I felt, I was comfortable and sure.

I am not sure if everyone has the same experience, or if different people have different reactions. This to me was. a valuable exercise -to check in with myself when I am unsure of myself. I may not be sure of my answer to a question about defining a concept, but I definitely know how my body feels. I can be sure of an answer to a question about that.

Integrity and Programming

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I started writing this post a few weeks ago, but it has been growing inside of me.

There were two reasons why I intentionally learned to program as a young teenager.

  1. I read an article about Margie Profet in Omni Magazine that discussed how she became programmer because she was able to use her mind and support herself while she figured out what to do with her life.
  2. There was always a right answer. I never had to guess whether or not I had done a good job or if I was qualified for a job – because the program would either work properly or not.

I did end up becoming a computer programmer and loving it, but these points of view had some wide ranging ramifications.

The first was figuring out what to do with my life. I used to paint. I never considered becoming a painter because it did not seem like a respectable career, or a cerebral career. Painting did not seem to involve hard work, although it was something I definitely worked at, and practiced. I had so many incorrect assumptions as a kid! But what I was able to do with programming was to actually thing this was a valid question – that life is something to figure out – like a computer program.

Life is really something to be lived…. danced, played, explored. That I was able to support myself with this thing “programming” or “tech” that was some how “different from my life” allowed me to fracture myself and live with a certain detachment.

The second ramification – was that I was able to our source my judgement.

Both of these relate to the notion of integrity. Integrity is a state of wholeness, something I have probably never felt – I have always felt fractured between what appeared to be competing interests, friends, demands, obligations, protocols. I lived in a very reactive state as a child, responding to the demands of my caregivers rather than acting out of my own volition. Nothing I ever did of my own free will ever was correct.

We can see why someone would then outsource their standard of correctness to a compiler.

My whole life I thought I was so smart to find programming, to be able to outsource these parts of myself. But really they are a sort of horcrux that have fragmented my soul and only now am I putting things back together.

Often times I don’t need a compiler or interpreter to tell me if my code is correct. I know that. Instead, there are types of correctness that a compiler cannot determine such as ethics, ease of use, generation of a flow state, of happiness rather than frustration. The software industry attempts to create algorithms in order to outsource the validity of these things too. We use A/B testing to find the optimal button placement for purchasing. But who said correctness was equated with purchasing? Maybe in one lens it is, but in many other lenses it is not. As we attempt to algorithmize (is that a word) all interaction, this outsourcing of correctness will feed into fields that are not even technological – like customer service.

There is no way to outsource this standard of correctness, what we can call integrity. It involves a mapping to the creators body. There are tools, psycho and somatic technologies to enhance integrity, and perhaps guidelines to encourage integrity, but one of the problems with cybernetic technology is that as we create metrics and optimize to these metrics we can imagine that we are being correct, but this is a false consciousness.

I started thinking about this topic a few weeks ago while listening to this Conner Habib podcast. The people and activities of programmer and the tech industry is in many ways unrecognizable from the field I entered almost 20 years ago. There I was surrounded by anti-corporate polymaths, as fascinated by number theory as by Gurdjieff and with interests and practices ranging from jazz trombone, to acupuncture, to ancient Greek. Programming was an exciting and powerful way to manifest with your mind. It was a type of magic.

This is changing and I think within the next 10 years or a lot of programming will be replaced by machine learning. This saddens me, because the practice of programming itself is a great psycho-technology, if we can remember not to outsource our integrity.

Affect

philosophy

A while back a friend on instagram asked if I could recommend a book on affect theory. I did not even know I what affect theory was, although I had been reading about it for years and just finished Ugly Feelings by Sianne Ngai, which is a work of affect theory. 

I subsequently got my hands on a bunch of affect theory related readings, and also familiarized myself with the musical theory of affect– I don’t even know if these two are the same things. 

What is affect theory? As far as I can tell it is the theory of how emotion is produced.  I sort of like the wiki page on the musical theory of affect and I like this article as well. It describes what Descartes identified as 6 basic affects that a work of art could elicit.  I would say there are more, but among the six are joy, desire, and anger. 

How are these affects elicited in a work of art, how does a work of art show an affect? This becomes more critical in works of art like film and photography which use the physical gestures of an affect, think pursed lips, smile, frown, to display affect and to perhaps illicit an affect or create some sort of dynamic tension. 

Thus there grows this relationship between affect and phenomenology and embodiment. How do we know someone is experiencing an affect? Well we really don’t know, but perhaps we can tell from the way they hold parts of their body.  There are also psychological and psychoanalytic analyses of affect. 

Affect theory, as far as I can tell, is about materiality, grounding interpretation in the body or materiality.  

In this social text article/interview from 2013 Lauren Berlant (affect theorist) talks with Dana Luciano about the need for new genres or to invent new genres. I am attracted to this. The question of how genres are invented reminds me of the  metamodernist discussion. A discussion ensues about stylistic considerations in writings aimed at argumentation, in order to produce affect – to engage and interest readers.  This is dissolving the distinction between form and content. 

To quote the essay Berlant says “As a conceptual aesthetic, my practice is to ask whether interruptive modalities are also ways of not reproducing the world; it is to cleave the relation between impact and importance and to watch how things take shape. ” 

This is a way of opening up a space of imagination, a speculative space, and a generative space. 

I am reminded of Ray Brassier’s essay on the Dialectics between Suspicion and Trust which I have thought about and written about. We have the three modes of understanding beyond science understanding via interpretation (or sculpted via interpretation): Freud, Marx, Nietzsche: sexual repression, class struggle, will to power. The effect of these ‘forces’ are explained via interpretation. There is nothing that is “just the facts” the facts, the observations, are a matter of interpretation.

So what other interpretive modes are there? Brassier’s article begin with Paul Ricouer’s Hermeneutics of Suspicion. This means that consciousness is a false consciousness because there are these background forces that shape our consciousness such as sexual repression (it sounds sort of transcendentally to me). Is it helpful to think of Affect theory in light of this? We could say that facts are really only affects, or that facts are communicated via affects. I don’t know. This does not entirely make sense to me and this is probably a gross misapplication and misinterpretation.

But if in some instances we collapse observation and interpretation, perhaps with affect theory we collapse observation and emotion. What are the different vectors of observation?

Systems vs Stories

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I had a dream last night …. Rarely are dreams interesting to anyone but the dreamer, but I’m going to talk about this one.

I actually had two dreams, but only one I want to write about here. The other I wrote in my dream journal.

This particular dream involved me in conversation with another person. I dont remember who this person was or really what we were talking about. I only remember that he admonished me (it was a he) about not suitably distinguishing between systems and stories.

I am reading a book on animism and in one of the earlier chapters there is a discussion about the problem most anthropologists make when they create a system rather than understand a story. I have not gotten to the part where this is made concrete, but my interpretation is as follows.

Anthropologists see cultures with different systems, systems of kinship, systems of exchange, systems of knowledge, and so forth. The criticism is that in creating a system something is lost. That there is something in the story, in the mythology that we miss when we create a system.

Systems are lower fidelity. Like the expression goes – the map is not the territory.
Systems are quantitative in a sense, they are perhaps a graph theory representation on a phenomena. Mythology and stories are embodied. Style is a body, structure is a body. In creating a system the body is stripped away. The musclss ,the sinew, the nerves, all we have are the bones.

Why do we want to make a system? Well because then we can embody it from our perspective. But perhaps instead we should try and transform our bodies to enter the system from the perspective of the stories that express the system.

We can say something like mythology is a system, rather than (or in addition to) this myth expresses a system justice. How can we enter the mythology? How must we transform ourselves? The map sometimes gives us a way to understand and communicate the path.

Graphics and Writing continued

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I am not sure what is going on with my weekly meditation on graphics and writing. It could be the electronic lit conference, my reading VISPO, my earlier reading of concrete poetry, my attempt at making diagrams. I am not entirely sure.

I have lots of thoughts about Thinking about Comics and Scott McCloud about hot and cold media via Marshall McLuhan and about images, text, and digital media via Vilem Flusser. I have lots of feelings, how do images make me feel, how do words make me feel. I react strongly to certain word and certain images and certain word images. I am drawn to them or repulsed by them for no immediate reason.  I have a certain averson to photography and typography. Not sure why.

This post will probably end up being some visual poetry/poets I want to bookmark for inspiration.

I like word play that plays with meaning and rhythm and sound, I like transposing one writing system on another – using the musical staff for drawing or writing with notes, like this piece printed in The Paris Review 2012 from Greg Evason – The Blind Canoe:

Greg Evason, The Blind Canoe.

and Jo Cook’s Celestogram, or Jesse Glass’ Shout Speak Whisper, or Jaap Blonk Just a Thought.

This is one of the reasons I love BpNicol.

I love Fabio Doctorvich. Here is one of his works from postypographika.

It uses the language of something like a circuit diagram but with words and iconography… and often color.

I love the intersection of labyrinths and mazes and text. This is a version of pattern poetry that predates the 20th century and is perhaps not considered ART. ButI love this work too and I see it in Eva O Ettel’s Waterford. It integrates mapping with mazes/labyrinths and text.

Or  Sveta Litvak with pppp, dolls, etc represents for me language and becoming. Text is so static as are images. Diagrams are movement, as are films and music.

This is Klaus Peter Dencker, A and it reminds me of what I was creating in my post the other day when I was attempting to create a graphic based on my reading of Henry Corbin.

I could go in a less diagrammatic way – the way that Carol Stetser does like here. If more diagrammatic work foreground the connections or nodes, this gives equal weight to the background and the milieu.

 

Writing that does not have “semantic content” (wordless) is called asemic. This could include fake letters, letters that do not make words, letters and images, letters used as images. We turn back what is effable – into that which is ineffable. I am sort of inspired by the Dada-ist inspired Lettrism… there is a great manifesto for that linked to in the wiki.  Also mIEKAL aND and The book of the dead… as this image shows from poetry magazine:

And

This piece is called Fonotaip system – combining phonetics and typographt.  It is probably no coincidence I like this piece since I am interested in mapping, in transduction, how different systems interact.  There is also a generative quality, an attention to process not just product. How does the letter emerge and change as it is spoken. There was also a typography and mapping mashup by W. Mark Sutherland that really reminded me of psycho-geography (which is related to the letterists).

There are some images I have found that are mappings of chess boards. I imagine what other game boards could provide visual scaffolding for poetry.  What kind of movements different boards indicate – what sorts of rhythms, what sort of inspiration do they provide. I imagine a sort of exquisite corpse game of poetry played as a settlers of catan board game.

As a sort of coda, I just attended a performance session where the artists were typing into a system that generated tones based on what was typed. I wonder about what creates virtuosity in that sort of work. At first my mind when to that attack of the finger on the keyboard, or how long you held the key for or how quickly or slowly the keys were typed. But this is not quite it. The virtuosity is in patterns. It is the composition. And in the case of live performance it is in improvisation. I am not sure if this can be called virtuosity, and I feel like I am leaving something on the table here. There is a virtuosity in mapping, that is similar to the skill of the data scientists who can tweak fitness variables and clean data but it not necessarily programming or collecting data or creating algorithms.

When I think about the mapping that to me is interesting. The virtuosity is in the system poetics.

Speculative Diagrams

poetry, reading

I am a big fan of speculative diagrams in writing. These are diagrams that do not analyze or explicate an idea, but are generative and imaginative jumping off points, or represent something ineffable. For example here is a diagram from Thomas Moynihan’s Spinal Catastrophism: A Secret History. 

 

Spinal Catastrophism

Thomas Moynihan’s Spinal Catastrophism: A Secret History

And Nick Land – I know we cant talk about him – but here is a diagram from Fanged Noumena. 

And this from Glass Bead! A Thought Disincarnate: What Does it Mean to Think?
Daniel Sacilotto

You get the picture….

Anyway I was reading Henry Corbin on Swedenborg and Islamic mysticism. It includes an account of a mystical and esoteric landscape, about imbuing things we take as indexical as symbolic and filled with meaning.  There is an interesting discussion about number. There is the dyad – the polarity – masculine and feminine (exoteric and esoteric), there is the trinity (material, spiritual, celestial), and there is the fourfold (the ages, the modes of interpretation), there is the 12 (the 12 imams, also the 12 notes in the chromatic scale)… Anyway I was thinking about how would I represent this as a diagram.

How would I make a speculative diagram that would complement this reading? Well first I started making a list of all the things that are numbered. Then I made a list of all the objects or images that I thought were salient. Finally I made a list of italicized/foreign words.

This is my first attempt. The ark sort of looks like a dog or something.