Category Archives: plato

plato’s cave


HiddenHistory on Vimeo
Ben’s post last week on the darker side of flash shone like a light bulb. I’d spent the morning manipulating a scanned image of Ditr Roth, by taking this video clip from Vimeo and downloading the source quicktime (which Vimeo allows you to do) importing that into i-movie and exporting thirteen still images as jpegs to sequence into an animated gif. Then I started pulling wav. files off cds and layering tracks and looping them and turning them into mpegs. In other words, it was a day like any other, but when I read Social Powerpoint, I considered how many little media format borders I’d just crossed and how many times I cross those borders on any given day in any given post and how much I take that freedom for granted. So, is flash like that damn wall they keep threatening to build in Texas, or built once in Germany and before that in China (and as a bird, or a bowerbird knows….walls never really work if you can fly over them, or go around)?
I don’t know enough about flash coding, but I worry that these walls are all already there in the very way that people read different media. In the way that their eyeballs see them and their earballs hear them. A photograph and a drawing will both appear on a digital page as jpegs, but it still seems a little tricky to get people to look at them in relation to each other. In painting, you take two paintings and put them side by side: BANG, you have a diptych. It becomes a third thing. I thought that logic would translate very easily to a still image and a moving one, or a sound and word, but It seems that people like compartments. They like to have their still photos at flickr and their video on You tube and their music on i-tunes, and their book on tape as a podcast, etc. If things appear on a digital page together, they are meant to be surrounded by a trompe l’oeil metallic players just so that there’s no aesthetic miscegenation going on. It’s what we’re used to.
I tend to use a bunch of media sharing services for IT IN place both as a way to host media and as a way of advertising. One of the realities I’ve come to deal with is that many more people are going to see my work as discrete media objects on flickr and vimeo than will ever make it to the blog to read these things together in the way that I intended. People seem to get something out of the picutres and the videos as pictures and videos, etc., but I always feel they are missing half the point. I think of it as reading sentence fragments, or stanzas and never seeing the whole poem.
At this point, each media is like a different language and trying to put them all together into a single whole is a Wasteland exercise… and the wasteland is patrolled by Minutemen and snakes.
Maybe, in some ways throwing these fragments out into the digital desert is part of the poetry. Maybe the networked landscape offers the thrill of archeology for the reader, like digging up little photo, sound, and video tiles that lead the reader on to find the mosaic. Today someone left a comment on flickr:

“your pieces are like secret boxes.. when i click the link it’s like lifting a lid and inside there is always something surprisingly ‘other’ and beautiful..”

….I could tack a hundred paintings on a hundred walls and never get a such a nice sentence in return.
But then there is the voice of my mother and also the significant other saying, “So how do you make money?”
It’s important to point out that for me the nexus of meaning is in mark making (wether as writing, or drawing which I think are intimately and evolutionarily (?) cave connected). My practice always revolves around drawing… All the different media I use are like a series of mirrors that multiply all the possible ways to see and understand things, but as an art animal, my primary way of knowing where I stand in the funhouse is to make a mark and so I think my practice revolves around the drawings… they are the map, if you will. While not exactly having any sort of business model, I always figured digital media would lead people to want to see and maybe own the “original” drawings and paintings. Of course, I thought of it this way, because that’s just what people traditionally have done: they sell things to people who collect things. It’s what we’re used to.
Maybe the past few months of deciphering fluxus history (and it’s anti-art leanings) has put the zap on my head, but lately I’m a bit lost in a Labyrinth of my own creation. The blog has sort of become the work of art and none of it’s discrete parts (read media) are more or less important…not when I’m successful in a post. It may be Greek and Latin and French and German and English and Japanese, but it has to be read together if you want to get the jokes. I don’t know… maybe I’m speaking in tongues. I have a feeling the youtube generation will be malf blahming flah wast di blamspoontoop dang glover….
* addendum: as I wrote this, three people on flickr enquired about buying work.
my Flickr page
my Vimeo page

google is sued… again

This time by publishers. Penguin Group USA, McGraw-Hill, Pearson Education, Simon & Schuster and John Wiley & Sons. The gripe is the same as with the Authors’ Guild, which filed suit last month alleging “massive copyright infringement.” Publishers fear a dangerous precedent is set by Google’s scanning of books to construct what amounts to a giant card catalogue on the web. Google claims “fair use” (see rationale), again pointing out that for copyrighted works only tiny “snippets” of text are displayed around keywords (though perhaps this is not yet fully in effect – I was searching around in this book and was able to look at quite a lot).
Google calls the publishers’ suit “near-sighted.” And it probably is. The benefit to readers and researchers will be tremendous, as will (Google is eager to point out) the exposure for authors and publishers. But Google Print is undoubtedly an earth-shaking program. Look at the reaction in Europe, where alarm bells rung by France warned of cultural imperialism, an english-drenched web. Heads of state and culture convened and initial plans for a European digital library have been drawn up.
What the transatlantic flap makes clear is that Google’s book scanning touches a deep nerve, and the argument over intellectual property, signficant though it is, distracts from a more profound human anxiety — an anxiety about the form of culture and the shape of thoughts. If we try to grope back through the millennia, we can find find an analogy in the invention of writing.
The shift from oral to written language froze speech into stable strings that could be transmitted and stored over distance and time. This change not only affected the modes of communication, it dramatically refigured the cognitive makeup of human beings (as McLuhan, Ong and others have described). We are currently going through another such shift. The digital takes the freezing medium of text and throws it back into fluidity. Like the melting of polar ice caps, it unsettles equilibriums, changes weather patterns. It is a lot to adjust to, and we wonder if our great-great-grandchildren will literally think differently from us.
But in spite of this disorienting new fluidity, we still have print, we still have the book. And actually, Google Print in many ways affirms this since its search returns will point to print retailers and brick-and-mortar libraries. Yet the fact remains that the canon is being scanned, with implications we can’t fully perceive, and future uses we can’t fully predict, and so it is understandable that many are unnerved. The ice is really beginning to melt.
In Phaedrus, Plato expresses a similar anxiety about the invention of writing. He tells the tale of Theuth, an Egyptian deity who goes around spreading the new technology, and one day encounters a skeptic in King Thamus:

…you who are the father of letters, from a paternal love of your own children have been led to attribute to them a power opposite to that which they in fact possess. For this discovery of yours will create forgetfulness in the minds of those who learn to use it; they will not exercise their memories, but, trusting in external, foreign marks, they will not bring things to remembrance from within themselves. You have discovered a remedy not for memory, but for reminding. You offer your students the appearance of wisdom, not true wisdom. They will be hearers of many things and will have learned nothing; they will appear to be omniscient and will generally know nothing; they will be tiresome company, having the show of wisdom without the reality.

As I type, I’m exhibiting wisdom without the reality. I’ve read Plato, but nowhere near exhaustively. Yet I can slash and weave texts on the web in seconds, throw together a blog entry and send it screeching into the commons. And with Google Print I can get the quote I need and let the rest of the book rot behind the security fence. This fluidity is dangerous because it makes connections so easy. Do we know what we are connecting?