Assyrian Art


I am looking for a friend who is an expert in Assyrian art. I have no idea how or why this concept took hold. As a young child I was obsessed with ancient Egypt, but that is really not the same thing now is it.

To realize this dream, I turned duck duck go.  At some point, I got fed up and wet to the metropolitan museum of art website  to see if there is speaker series around Assyrian art (no). But then I was reminded of the incredible trove of open source met books. There are 502.  How much richer my life would be if I was able to absorb everything in those 502 tomes??  One of them is Beyond Babylon Art Trade and Diplomacy in the Second Millenium BC and I plan on reading that first.

I thought what if I read one of these books a day.  A bit over ambitious and I probably would retain very little information, but I would be done in 2 years. I would not really be able to read anything else, even if I were able to read at this pace.  Such a goal reminded me of the time I tried to read an ubu web paper every week. That was  a less ambitious endeavor, but still it lasted only a month. This week I am not reading, or watching tv, or listening to podcasts (unless I am coding).  (If you must know I’m listening to arias on spotify.) So whatever I decide will have to wait till after Labor day.

My main resource of Assyrian art is now Omur Harmansah. He has the most fantastic syllabi about the ancient near east.  His syllabus for the Art and Visual Culture on the Ancient Near East looks fascinating. I mean art as diplomacy – of course! Art/gifting was always used to curry favor and share values/connect. I like the idea of art as part of a (international) gift economy.  Now we just send emojis to people on social media. The courses on  on places of healing, body, performance, and architecture and water also sound fascinating, even if only partially related to Assyrian art.   The concept of a “wet and fluid landscapes” … is so poetic and evocative. I am in a concrete and brittle landscape atop the hollow earth (subway).  This is an amazing art resource, lots of Assyrian Art, I do like cuneiform.

Sometimes I wonder, why can’t I go on a deep dive in an area that is valued by our society – like makeup tutorials on youtube.  But I guess that is just not how my desire is structured.  I also think can I combine my deep dives with something productive. Like write a machine learning engine that generates Assyrian art. That also sounds exhausting and not really how I want to be spending my time.  Is it enough to do just do a deep dive with nothing to show except perhaps a blog post and some journaling. Does everything have to have a product? An object? An external manifestation?


Psychoanalysis and code


Recently I wrote about psychoanalysis and film, but today I am going to write about psychoanalysis and code (or perhaps interactive systems). I  am thinking of this in the schema of Flusser who talks about images as a communication medium (the stone age, magic), writing (the bible, science), and digital systems (endlessly combinatorial systems where the skill is in the production rather than in the writing or the painting).

In psychoanalysis of film, we consider film as the psyche of a culture. So a psychoanalysis of film helps us understand the psychological dimensions of a culture. Does this mean a culture has a mind? Do we need a mind in order to engage in psychoanalysis. Does this mean that an aggregate of minds – that have created a film – are different than an individual mind? All good questions. It ties into the essay I recently read by CS pierce on the generations of ideas, but I will leave that to another post.

So what would it be to analyze the code of a culture, or the technology of a culture? Is there a psychology of code?  What does technology represent versus a film; what does code represent?

Code seems analogous to the ego. It is intentional and follows logic. The bugs and non-linear results (the black stack), is the unconscious and the shadow.  A psychoanalysis of code shows us how we think as a society. It is a blueprint to our cultural logic.  The bugs and our symptoms (ie, how we handle the bugs), show us the kinks in our logic.

Normally we think of the unconscious as presenting alternate options (content) to ego. But in the case of a psychoanalysis of code, the unconscious presents alternate logics or decision making capacities (form).

I detest the old division between form and content.  But different cultural products of our society represent different ways aspects of our thought.  This is a binary:  form and content, but there is perhaps a multitude. It is not just god and devil but a plethora of gods. We have capitalism (or economics) to represent how we relate, we have cooking to represent our sustenance by the earth.   Rather than integrating form and content together, what can we add to the categories of form and content to round out our conception of thought?

Psychoanalysis and Film


I am prepping to teach my class, computers robots and film, and I bought a bunch of discounted short cuts books. Short cuts is a fantastic series – I highly recommend it. One of the books I got focused on psychoanalysis and film.

It begins with a discussion of how mind blowing the invention of motion pictures actually was! For psychoanalysis, film seemed capable of representing mental phenomena in a way that other art forms could not. Since it was both image based and time based it had analogues to dream logic and logic outside .  Art in general is the epiphenomena of the psyche in a way that is perhaps different from all other mediums.  Art is the subjective creation of an individuals mind and does not have to conform to any sort of consensus reality (ie objective thought)

What was interesting to me, on a meta level, was the idea that films represents the psyche of a culture – it is the dream of a culture. Really, we could say art in general could constitute the psyche of a culture, not just film.  That way film or art analysis could proceed from the perspective of psychoanalysis.

What does that mean exactly?  What does it mean to interpret a anything psychologically, instead of perhaps historically, or aesthetically. We can look at a film and examine what items are representation of cultural complexes (something like perhaps fascism in pre ww2 german cinema), what story arcs and dramatic narratives can we considered cultural symptoms of underlying neurosis. For example, in looking at science fiction films we can consider the anti social inventor/programmer as symptom of some sort of cultural neurosis about what it means to be an inventor. What in this is part of an archetype in the collective unconscious and what part of this is symptomatic of the culture.

In my syllabus I say that representations of robots and computers in film are the dreams of society- they represent our unconscious thoughts about robots and computers.  What are the images of our egos? and what are the images of our unconscious?



Sunday night at the Metrograph


I figured if I was in NYC the night of August 18 I would go to my neighborhood theater and see the Eileen Myles short film and selected longer film The Spook Who Sat by the Door.   I am a super film buff and I have not really indulged in this passion since I had kids. It always surprises me when I watch a (good) film and remember how much I love film.  And then I think, well I was a filmmaker for 8ish years.

The Spook who sat by the door is brave and prescient and funny.  It has a crazy backstory involving spys and being pulled from the theatrical release.  As a film, it does all the “wrong things”, abrupt cuts, too much dialog, some weird storyline twists (weird in that it does not fall into Aristotle’s typologies of entertainment).   These, elements, for me, made the film more amazing.

A few months ago I was thinking about what I considered and valued in art, versus those of my primary partner who is an unabashed aesthete.  For me, what touches me in art. or in representation in general, in art is some sort of vulnerability.  I value this most, opposed to some sort of notion of ‘beauty.’ I sometimes have a strange reaction to art, either books, or music, or film and complain that it is not ‘true’.  This is always a confusing reaction, since fiction is not supposed to be true – maybe truer than true, or a deeper truth, but the judging a creative product by the whether or not it is true – seems incorrect to me. Although this is exactly what I do.

What does this idea of truth of an artwork mean to me, what am I really trying to communicate. Perhaps it is this idea of vulnerability of experiencing the subjective experience of another being.  Art is one of the last domains of subjective experience. I create something that is subjective, and then it either speaks to my subjective experience (I like it) or I do not. My knowledge, personality, sensitivities all come into play in my subjective experience of another work of art.  And if it touches me, if it provides a connection between my interface and the interface of a remote autonomous being, than that feels like the truth.

All of this is to say, that if the Spook who sat by the door was a high concept Hollywood film (even an indie film workshopped in film school), it would not have the same impact for me. The way the film breaks from the ‘commodity’ film/the stylized film is part of the meaning of the the film, creates energy and power and makes the film true.

Planetary Computing


I am meeting with some fellows this week and we are discussing Benjamin Bratton’s Black Stack article in eflux.  So what the heck is going on here.

I’ll give you my (mis)interpretation.

We are transforming from being influenced (or controlled) or shaped by the Stack to the Black Stack.

In my analysis, there are six layers to this Stack: Earth, Cloud, City, Address, Interface, and User….The Black Stack, then, is to the Stack what the shadow of the future is to the form of the present.

Where traditional nation states had physical domains of control (the sea, the air), cyberspace does not divide into these topologies.  Cyberspace, the realm of the stack is vertical, with interchangeable pieces for each layer. This is what Bratton probably means when he calls the stack a schema.

But along with the stack, there comes another entity – the black stack. These are the unintended consequences of the stack. Perhaps it could refer to the unintended consequences of all dynamic system. But for now lets just say it is the stack. What is the unintended consequence of the nation state? Probably the state of exception.  That would be the black state, where the citizen is reduced to bare life.

What is the black stack? In Jungian psychology we talk about the shadow.  This refers to  all the issues that an individual’s ego has not integrated into their conscious mind.

The Black Stack is less the anarchist stack, or the death-metal stack, or the utterly opaque stack, than the computational totality-to-come, defined at this moment by what it is not, by the empty content fields of its framework, and by its dire inevitability. It is not the platform we have, but the platform that might be.

So at first we had to deal with the direct implications of the stack, and now we have to deal with the black stack, consequences of the stack that we did not plan and perhaps cannot understand and debug.

For the stack we have the cloud and the user – these are just two layers of the stack. And like the thought of Ken Wilber, one contains the other in some respect.  The cloud is related to the nation state (or laws), the user, to the citizen. When I was in college there was a class called – I think – the human being and the citizen. It was part of a humanities requirement. Perhaps they have since renamed the class: “the human being, the citizen and the user”, or perhaps “the citizen and the user”, or “the human being and the user”. We can play this game all the day.

The cloud demarcates access. It is the realm of the virtual firewall not the physical great wall (or wall that Trump wants to build on the US/Mexico border).  Services provided by the cloud (like google login), is as useful (if not more useful) as services provided by states (like garbage collection).

In the long run, that may still be the outcome, with modern liberal states taking their place next to ceremonial monarchs and stripped of all but symbolic authority, not necessarily replaced but displaced and misplaced to one side…Between the state, the market, and the platform, which is better designed to tax the interfaces of everyday life and draw sovereignty thereby? …Looking toward the Black Stack, we observe that new forms of governmentality arise through new capacities to tax flows

This is an interesting analogy and an interesting interpretation of sovereignty.  What is the role of the traditional state in concert with this new type of access control.  A social contract no longer creates (or protects) our freedoms, rather it is the protocols of the cloud – the legislative layer of the stack.  How do we engage in price discovery when there is no place called the market but only bots (vectors) constantly testing price resistance?

The user is analogous to the citizen. Similar to bare life it is stripped of certain things, although what the user is stripped of is nuance, whereby the citizen is stripped of protection. The user is reduced to only those things that can be quantifiable or discrete. That can be interfaces with the stack – that can interface with other layers of the stack.  The human dies to be replaced by users (sensors, bots, or aggregates of other users, or avatars/digizens). The black stack has unplanned requirements for user interaction that dictate the way we interact in a way that is beyond the protocol or api requirements for how users interact in the first place. This is why we are talking about the black stack. The hidden requirements of interactions among layers of the stack and within a layer of the stack.

We come from the age of enlightenment and the scientific revolution. Our governments are experiments. And even if they fail, their unplanned consequences (the darkness), is easy to interpret. The unplanned consequences of the black stack may be unintelligible to human reason.

Instead of tabula rasa, this tabula plenus allows for creativity and figuration only by subtraction, like scratching paint from a canvas—only by carving away, by death, by replacement.

It is the ultimate resistance to hermeneutics – we cannot interpret it, we can only see its actions and consequences.

Bratton ends with:

The Black Stack may also be black because we cannot see our own reflection in it. In the last instance, its accelerationist geopolitics is less eschatological than chemical, because its grounding of time is based less on the promise of historical dialectics than on the rot of isotope decay. It is drawn, I believe, by an inhuman and inhumanist molecular form-finding: pre-Cambrian flora changed into peat oil changed into children’s toys, dinosaurs changed into birds changed into ceremonial headdresses, computation itself converted into whatever meta-machine comes next, and Stack into Black Stack.

I think this is interesting – eschatological vs chemical as the grounding of time. What does this mean? There is no history to the stack since history means a point of view or a journey. The stack only gathers information and connects,  a sort of metastasis instead of a chemical reaction.  Perhaps the stack is biological and not chemical – although it is biological organs without bodies.

Rules and Consciousness


I was having a conversation with my shrink (ie I was in therapy) and he said in the past there were rules that govern how we act. Now with the advent of psychology, we have consciousness, personal decisions dictate how we act.  I do not live my life according to the book of Leviticus (some people do and that is ok). However I live my live according to my consciousness.  My shrink said that this is what is meant by a Nietzsche transvaluation of values.  I was never a big fan of Nietzsche, although perhaps I should reconsider that stance.

What is the transvaluation of values? It is NOT the adoption of unethical behaviors. It is NOT like a Kantian radical evil where I act in exact opposite to the moral imperative. Rather, as I see it, in a transvaluation of values that there is no more moral imperative.  The moral imperative is relative to your own value system, everyone is free to make their own value system. Does this mean relativism. No. There are some value systems better than others, I believe.  And here I am influenced by Ken Wilber who says something like the more depth (wholistic/encompassing) a system has the more correct it is.

With transvaluation of values there is no more blind acceptance of rules, instead there is conscious decision making on a day by day basis. This is not unethical or antithetical to ethics, it is about a personal ethics based on consciousness and interiority. We can all think of countless examples of unethical behavior carried out in the name of “following orders”.

If we look at the history of religion or society they are all structured by rules. And if we look at the social contract theorists like Hobbes and Locke, some how we leave the state of nature  (either bad or good),  because we create a set of rules that allows us all to live together.  The transvaluation of value is one of many things: rejection of these values as ethical, a creation of a personal set of values, a recognition that desires do not have ethics (in my interpretation only actions do).

I have been binge reading Ken Wilber and Claire Graves and so I wonder perhaps it is unwise to undergo a transvaluation of value unless your values are in some sense transpersonal (ie honor another individual’s sovereignty).  If your transvaluation of values are based in your ego or id (these are Freudian terms not Wilber or Graves terms but I am just mashing it all up),  then I can imagine some nasty antisocial behavior.

So now I can imagine what are my values, and then I can act in according with my values. What do I desire? Do they reenforce or contradict my values? Then I can decide how to act?

But what are my values, this is a hard question. For now I have come up with this: freedom, poetry, sovereignty.

Relationships: Lists and Test


I just wrote this post and it was not saved. So I am going to try and recreate it. I am super bummed.

A few months ago my shrink pulled out a piece of paper and started reading it. It was a list of qualities one of his patients was looking for in a partner.  It had things like intelligence and humor. I asked, what about love? He said, she has chosen to fall in love with the person who has these qualities.

I never had a list. I had a constellation of qualities I valued: cosmopolitan, likes poetry but not too emo, aesthetic, nice hair.  It was never anything I wrote down or was really very aware of other sort of comparing it with other partners and people in my life and thinking I want someone like this, or the opposite of that.  In all of us, qualities are a constellation, sometimes a value is exalted in Taurus and sometimes it is in its detriment in Scorpio.

It was not very conscious, that I suppose is the point of the list. Make your desires and your intentions conscious. Figure out what you want.  My mother used to say don’t test people, no one passes the test. I took this advice to heart. Having a list is sort of like having a test.  Was my mother really saying don’t have a list no one matches the list or was it something else?

Lately I started to wonder if this was wrong advice. Should I have had tests? There are a lot of tests in life of the Joseph Campbell variety.  I think of these as life milestones: having a pet, or a plant or joining a community, or committing to a partner. These are tests, but of a different type than the list test.  You have to do certain things to successfully care for a plant, or get a partner to commit. If you cannot navigate these tests perhaps you should not reap their rewards. If you cannot care for a plant you should not have plant.

But back to the list meditation, the one thing I have on my list, and my partner probably has too, is flexibility. That is the value, like hope at the bottom of Pandora’s box, that makes everything possible.

My original post was much better, but it is lost. I have recreated some of my thoughts. But they are not as fresh as I thought this morning. I ended that post mentioning the relationship guru Esther Perel.  She says something like you will have many partners in your lifetime, and if you are lucky with the same person. It seems like constellations rather than lists are more flexible