Nature is not natural and can never be naturalized — Graham Harman

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Bogost @ Rice

Open to the public. What an awesome talk description:

Ian Bogost, “Smartwhatever, or, Living Inside Computation”

Thursday, September 17
4:00 p.m.
Herring 100
Part of the Sawyer Seminar on Platforms of Knowledge in a Wide Web of Worlds, sponsored by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation

One of the great ironies of today’s era of “smart” devices and supposedly soon-to-be-life-threatening artificial intelligence and all the rest is that computing is actually pretty stupid. Smart TVs, doorbells, thermostats, and related gizmos promise us the ability to control our lives from our smartphones. The only thing they fail to explain is why we’d want to do that. Computational life today is less and less about the operation and use of computing devices, and more a new type of lifestyle we live inside computers. Is it a lifestyle we wish to live? A good question. An even better one: what do we do about the fact that it’s coming one way or another.

Dr. Ian Bogost is an author and an award-winning game designer. He is Ivan Allen College Distinguished Chair in Media Studies and Professor of Interactive Computing at the Georgia Institute of Technology, where he also holds an appointment in the Scheller College of Business. Bogost is also Founding Partner at Persuasive Games LLC, an independent game studio, and a Contributing Editor at The Atlantic, where he writes regularly about technology and popular culture.

"I had to kill you because you weren't obeying the rules"

...that's the English neurosis in relation to the law. Every culture is different in this regard. But you'll hear something like that from a motorist when you cross the street in the “wrong” place.

Or when you're a kid and get arrested for child pornography because you sexted your girlfriend, who herself distributed the image. (Today's news.) The spokespeople's justifications on the radio this morning exactly fit the rhetoric just described.

In a school system where, unlike in the USA (again, see my previous) you are no longer allowed to give your frightened pupils so much as a hug because you will be fired for sexual abuse.

In a school culture where the basic vibe is “There is no bullying, because we never talk about it.”

In a wider school culture of pervasive child sexual abuse (my old school is under serious investigation for it, e.g.).

The prurient obsession with naked bodies fused with the child-unfriendly culture results in really wrong violence.


If you visit from the USA, you will be amazed at how many parents behave to their kids in supermarkets. The way some parents yell at them would get you citizens' arrested or clocked over here. For instance, last time I was in Sainsbury's, last year: [a mother, yelling really loudly, child is crying, no one is looking because that would be impolite] “If you don't fucking [whatever the parent wants, I don't recall, probably “shut up”] I'm going to fucking smack your fucking face, fuck fuck this fuck that etc.”

The point being, her actions were condoned in silence. I think Mark Fisher's essay about the violence of boarding school (see earlier post) applies here, because surely this is a percolation from the still feudal culture of rulership.

It's really really vivid if you emigrated from the UK to the USA and have kids. The lack of playgrounds, the general contempt for children, the general vibe of not having kids is way better than having kids. The basic cruelty towards self that creates these beliefs, let alone cruelty to others.

In the land of Piglet and Moley. What gives?

England, land of discipline. You learned to say NO and you wield it very unskillfully, often. [Many American students have told me stories of being reduced to tears by their professor from or in England--and you know that many of the English are laughing at the American for having a pretty normal emotion reaction to being hurt. And probably they describe her as narcissistic because she hasn't developed sufficient scar tissue to act as ersatz psychic armor against, sorry Rog was right again, the dark sarcasm in the classroom.]

You skipped a step, England. You need to learn to say YES first. Before you learn discipline you need to learn generosity.

Some Future Talks Coming

...I updated the Future Talks page. Stockholm soon then Paris are up first.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Gramsci the way, that previous post is pretty standard Gramsci, for what it's worth. He was fond of arguing that the US was in front of Europe ideologically speaking.


For all the bluff talk by unelectable racist and misogynist candidates, the USA is still in front of Europe in many respects. Heck we even still have a nationalized mail service and trains (sorry UK).

But the recent clarity we now all have about Europe's immigration and asylum policies--there isn't the latter, at all, for instance--truly takes the biscuit.

And as for the reactions of Poland (no one allowed but Catholics), Hungary and the UK...

It's quite absurd from over here. If you want to go to Cali you don't need to prove you have a job to get over the Sierra Nevada, British Tory secretary whose name I forget, oh yes Teresa May.

We didn't get hypnotized by the austerity scolds either.

My son is only a bit older than the boy in that photo.

Brittle Funny Oppression

Mark Fisher's piece on comedy in The New Humanist is just so good.

Nailing it on the boarding school vibe. From an American perspective I'd say that the comedy is only a hotspot region of a much larger space, let's call it all of England south of roughly Nottingham.

Maybe a bit romanticizing of the working class. I can do both channels having been at school with the entity called Osborne and at home with my dad in the musicians' union and his dad having been a steelworker and my brother being a plumber. And that world has its own psychic armor. Just listen to Lennon, "Working Class Hero."

Fisher plus Lennon will give you an accurate guide to a lot of England and the take home message is: if you live south of Nottingham, evacuate immediately.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

That's the Spirit Graham

Cole has failed to grasp the genuine reason why artists and architects have taken an interest in my work. For the past four hundred years, Western philosophy has tried like an insecure teenager to copy the methods and triumphs of deductive geometry and the natural sciences. It has tried to turn philosophy into a form of knowledge despite the unironic claim of philosophy’s founding hero, Socrates, that he knows nothing.”  -- Artforum

Monday, August 31, 2015

S&M Ballet 2

...come to think of it all of that isn't very different from the work of my lovely new friend Arca, Björk's producer. I'd definitely ask him to score it nowadays.

S&M Ballet

RIP Oliver Sacks. When I was in my final year at Oxford I was writing a ballet of Shelley's Prometheus Unbound mashed up with his Awakenings with dancers in bondage gear and with disabilities. (Before it was a movie.) Obviously I wish I'd had the time to complete it. I had a producer and everything and we were sizing up set designs, essay on Milton got in the way...

Friday, August 28, 2015

Beam Me Up Scotty

From the Hysterical Puffington Post's list of 6 signs "your relationship is doomed!" (!)

"4. Dating a Person Who Keeps Your Relationship a Secret on Social Media
Does the person you're dating avoid posting photos of the two of you together? Is that person otherwise active on social media? If yes, have you two discussed this? New couples who are excited about a future together usually want to share their happiness with friends and family. If that's not happening in your situation, you should certainly ask why?"

Unless you put your tendrils in this ultraviolet light, you are evil.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

"Shots Rang Out" an appalling American euphemism for


...and “rang”: a gunshot is so not a bell.

Remember the Gulf War reporting? “I can hear the sound of tracer fire around me.” =


Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Tim Morton's Coffee

Someone sent me this and naturally I smiled.

Morton and Harman in Attempt Magazine

I'm saying some things about our current agricultural-logical-ontological crisis.

A Simple Way to Determine the Correct Recommended Daily Amount of Sugar in a Product

Soft drink companies are resisting FDA plans to put the percentage of the recommended daily amount of sugar on products, as opposed to grams per serving (the gram being a unit Joe Average USA has no clue about). For the sake of reference, one can of Coca Cola contains 130% of that amount, I believe.

But I think there's an easier way to determine this amount. It's simple. The recommended daily amount should be:

That amount which, on live TV, the CEO of the soft drink (or other) company is prepared to consume in a single sitting.

“Coca Cola can be part of a balanced daily diet.” [actual quotation by actual big person during London Olympics, sponsored by Coca Cola]

“Fantastic. Okay. Here are eight cans of cola. Drink them.”

“Well...perhaps we shouldn't get carried away here.”

“Oh, okay. Seven. Drink seven.”


“Fair enough. Six. Go on. Drink.”


Fuck Faces

So, some Hollywood celebrity has said that her motto is “Don't be an arrogant fuckface,” and the In-a-Hysterical-Huff Post has described it as the best life advice ever given.

I noticed last week that commenters on another article seemed happy to label those with whom they had some dislike or disagreement fuckbags.

But what are these things, and why are they bad? A fuck face might be quite nice, or funny: just look at Pasolini's Decameron. And a fuckbag? Is it a scrotum? A bag of sex toys? What? And why are those bad?

Or are we saying Bare life animated corpse that I'd like to violate? (Very bad in context, since fuckbag was being used against a now common and notably sexist meme.)

Wanker and other derogatory terms I understand--there seems to be a clear referent. But that's not the only reason to prefer them. This isn't an elegy for a mythical lost age where we said what we meant and meant what we said. It's more about how the new insult is a double-wide turbo charged truck in comparison to the older one, which now seems like a cheap old bicycle.

These new blends of insult approach word salad, but not enough. There is some minimal reference, and therein lies the aggression. This isn't about the free play of the signifier, but its opposite, the coercive mashup of little bits of reference, demeaning the whole notion of faces and fucking, and bags etc, not to mention sounds and words.

These features are symptoms of a terrible, narcissistic aggression, fueled by the mirror shades that are the affordances of online subjectivity.

Astounding how easy and viral these terms are--the whole game is to be--what?--not disinhibited, maybe repressively desublimated (thanks Frankfurt school!) enough to use them. Interestingly, I wonder whether the celebrity and her audience would have felt less comfortable saying wanker.

Speech is energy and energy, obviously, can be used as a weapon. But who is being attacked by fuckface? It's as if language, let alone sexuality, let alone the user of the term, is tearing itself/herself apart in the act of flipping the bird in another random act of online superhighway (as Clinton used to say) road rage.

Saying Don't be an arrogant fuckface is being an arrogant fuckface. And hearing it in a TV studio without wincing. And publishing a Huffing and Puffington piece about it.

This is much more dire than some older guy lamenting people's lack of manners. This is lamenting people's lack of pleasure, its gentle pulsation, its tendrils. Lack of pleasure regarding sexuality and language, two interrelated phenomena.

Fuckface is a pleasure defoliant. The Napalm of insults. It strips the entire forest, the communication dimension in which the speaker herself or himself also resides. Nothing left to salvage.

It's sort of like channeling Schopenhauerian will. In Schopenhauer's world, if you eat me, that is will eating itself. The world of what he calls representation (incarnation, physicality, enactment) that disguises this snarling loop is left in tatters. The new insults are arc lights of cynical reason.

My mum, a psychoanalyst, is really disturbed by the way the internet seems to want to allow everyone to play at having not a mental illness but a personality disorder, something far more intense and chronic and basic than acute misery.

I think we need to have another look at what Žižek was writing in the later 90s, when he kept on and on making the point that the transition to what he was calling virtual reality needed to be noted and analyzed. Something is happening, he was arguing, and we won't even be able to see in such a way as to notice that something is happening, a few years into virtual reality.

When some people (scholars and the military) had the internet, it was some kind of freedom pleasure space.

Now that “everyone” has it, it's become an authoritarian aggression space.

When did that flip occur? It's interesting to think about, because it involves the paradox of the heap (the Sorites paradox). Was there a more or less precisely defined transition moment between these two states, and roughly how many people were online for it to have occurred?

Let alone why. We have no idea why--apart from the fact that samsara is aggression, or that people aren't yet ready even for consumerism, let alone more futuristic forms of pleasure. It's the angry agricultural God who yells fuckface at his creation, which is a reflection of his face. The psychotic who-is-killing-whom snarl: faces that fuck, death to faces, fuck as kill, faces of pleasure as ugly insults.

And the parallel transition from wanker et al. to fuckbag et al, alliterative messes insidiously less significant than shouting some truly a-signifying wash of consonants. (Again, this isn't a war against the signifier in the name of the good old referential days that I'm trying to mount here.)

The culture of fuckface is funny if you can see how caught people are in finding the fastest, most efficient aggression mode. Unfortunately, you have to be pretty contemplative to have slowed down enough to appreciate how funny it is. And it's funny in a desperate way, like watching puppets fry themselves alive. Live human auto-sacrifice. Yahweh tearing his face off.