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I can see (myself) for miles and miles and….

January 31st, 2007

Cross-posted to my social software blog

I don’t normally write personal posts. But last night, during one of those proverbial late-night-staring-at-the-ceiling attempts to sweep the cobwebs from the corners of my mind in order to prepare it for rest, I had what felt like a small-to-middling realization. I remembered realizing, out on the playa one night at Burning Man, that I’d lived all my life unable to tell the difference between anger and resentment. Coming from others, I mean. That when a person was angry with my I immediately thought they resented me. What mattered of course was how this affect my response.
I realized last night, thinking about this project to define the “user” of social software as a user in conversation with him/herself as much as with “real” others, realized that there are some emotions that are easily mistaken online. Really big, important emotions. Though they’re not really emotions; they’re aspects of communication that involve emotion. But it’s precisely because they’re not expressed, they’re read, that they are easily confused. Empathy and projection. A person might be empathetic or sympathetic, compassionate, in an email, or post, or comment. That would be our reading, our impression. But the person being compassionate might be projecting. Transactional Analysts described these kinds of phenomena as “crossed transactions.”
For example: Bossman: Mary, get me a hundred copies of this report by lunch please. Mary: You don’t own me you know! I do have other things to do! (They were a bit less PC back then; but you probably recognize the dynamic. Think of Chloe in 24). TA would have called this an adult-child transaction, wherein Mary responds as a child to a demanding parent.
So the thing that hit me was that there are certain kinds of communications, affective or emotionally rich ones, that are handled in face to face talk by use of body language, face, and of course the fact within seconds we can establish, by walking up or down the ladder of intensity and risk, each other’s intentions. But in blogging, commenting, emailing, (less so in IM — because it cycles through short turns and is actually connected to another person), we are required to read/interpret the intention behind what others say. And so we can read them generously, that is assigning to their words what seem to be their intentions. Or we can read them internally, that is through our own emotional complexes, including of course all the things we tend to hear because we’re sensitive to them.
Some of the most important aspects of communication, those having to do with interest, with liking a person, with being acknowledged, ignored, agreed with or disagreed with, are essentially up for grabs. If we have emotional cobwebs and detritus, and I don’t know a soul who doesn’t, we recognize/encounter our own crap in other’s words, and assign it to them (unless we’re enlightened, in which case we can catch ourselves before answering!). Same with ideals, fantasies, wishes, etc: we might believe they mean it (when in fact *they’re* engaged perhaps with their own idealizations). This would explain the tendency in dating sites for people to ascend the ramp to intimacy at great speed, only to then fall from the peak disastrously and walk away in great disappointment. The medium engages us with our own means of understanding another’s intentions, but brackets their ability to correct where our heading.

The Social Engine that Drives Review Sites

January 30th, 2007

I just posted this to my social software blog, but thought I should cross post it here also.

Social Interaction Design Guide: The Social Engine that Drives Review Sites 2007, pdf, 16 pages. NEW! A Social Interaction Design guide to the social engine and engineering of user motivation and participation on review sites. This lighter-than-usual white paper looks at the social practices engaged in web sites built around user reviews. In particular, the paper examines the way in which reviews can become a kind of personal profiling system for reviewers. It also looks at how reviews create and add value, and poses the question of how business might participate in social marketing of this kind.

Children of Paradise: Pynchon’s Against the Day

January 21st, 2007

For a book that travels so far and wide, the traveling itself is strangely told. Places are not separated by the distances, at least not distances crossed. Vehicles, whose retinue includes airships, navy destroyers disguised as passenger ships, manned torpedoes that buzz Venetian canals like vespas sawing through water on two-stroke fashion engines (Ciao! Ciao!), camels, horses, eagles (is that Mordor down below, Frodo? What is it you carry and that weighs upon your heart, so, Frodo?), not to mention time machines, are too imaginary to provide reliable transportation. What is the reader to make of all this?

I have intentionally avoided reading any reviews of the book, so as to plough through it on whatever strange connections my own head is capable of (a Rube Goldberg design, useful for traveing far as long as getting anywhere is not of any real consequence). And though I still believe that our characters are playing cards (I believe each family has four members in its suit, but those of you earlier in the book, help me) I’ve not yet checked out the Tarot deck to see if our characters’ descriptions match those of Tarot cards.

But there’s another realization creeping up on me (and ain’t this the distinct pleasure of reading a Pynchon novel? Those sneaking moments when you’re not sure whose reading whom, when author and reader seem to suddenly occupy the same head-space? Pynchon has a gift for engaging the reader to such a degree that the space between the novel and reader collapses into some strange zone of indeterminibility, the reading and the thinking now being one and the same, reader propelled forward by the sheer proximity of his own thoughts to the author’s fantastic prose…), and it’s that we’re still at the Chicago World’s Fair… Never left it folks.

By means I’m not certain of, we are making our way from pavilion to pavilion, as if in some weird Toy Story-Lord of the Rings odyssey set in a theme park featuring carnival rides, shooting galleries, Tarot readings, ferris wheels, balloon rides, Venetian gondolas, a hall of mirrors, Western saloons, bucket rides along cables and powered scooters and bicycles? A fantastic cartoon-like pursuit whose narratives bubble and froth with mythic as well as mystic force, but are enacted by a hapless and hopeless cast of marionnette dolls whose personalities include Darth Vader, Bilbo Baggins, Alice in Wonderland, Little Nemo, Houdini, Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee, Willy Wonka, the Wizard of Oz, Gandalf, and lord only knows who else…

Against the Day is at times incredibly unstable and uncertain, as if the book itself is a heaving, shaking, wheezing, and sputtering compendium of yarns unravelling, a Gargantuan rip-roaring roller coaster of a ride through frollicking revelries and reveries hoist on a petard un-tethered to the taut matrix of paranoia that structures Pynchon’s earlier efforts, manic and modern, fantastically filled with illusion and trickery, and simply howling with the pleasures of children given over to games and gibberish.

People, what have we done to ourselves?!

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Gilles Deleuze on film, in Against the Day by Thomas Pynchon

January 19th, 2007


I was flipping through Deleuze’s books on cinema this morning, with cinema, not literature, on my mind. But this just leapt out at me. We know that there’s a connecting line between Thomas Pynchon and Gilles Deleuze. And Against The Day, like his previous novels, is at times incredibly cinematic (in a sort of impossible way). So check these passages out. They deal with the kinds of films that create worlds. Deleuze uses philosopher Henri Bergson, whose ideas on the relationship of Past and Present to Time map well to film (since each film creates a strip of its own time, and can create movements through time within itself: flashbacks, dreams, parallel times, etc.). Deleuze describes these cinematic worlds as crystals, each having a kind of genetic purity, or organizational structure. What grabbed my attention were the numerous similarities between the role Iceland Spar plays in the book and this description of the crystal image. The notion that the characters have an actual and virtual image corresponds with the book’s constant population of ghosts, the doubling, the bilocations, deja vus, and so on. Even the references here to mirrors, and the Venetian mirror and multi-sided mirors is particularly weird. The Serpent, postcard, Augustinian Illumination are even mentioned!

Full excerpt is at our Against the Day Pynchon blog, here: Gilles Deleuze’s Cinema Books: Crystals of Time

From Gilles Deleuze Cinema 2: The Time Image

If we take this direction to its limit, we can say that the actual image itself has a virtual image which corresponds to to it like a double or a reflection. In Bergsonian terms, the real object is reflected in a mirror-image as in the virtual object which, from its side and simultaneously, envelops or reflects the real: there is ‘coalescence ‘ between the two. There is a formation of an image with two sides, actual and virtual. It is as if an image in a mirror, a photo or a postcard came to life, assumed independence and passed into the actual, even if this meant that the actual image returned into the mirror and resumed its place in the postcard or photo, following a double movement of liberation and capture.
….
But here we see that the opsign finds its true genetic element when the actual optical image crystallizes with its own virtual image, on the small internal circuit. This is a crystal-image, which gives us the key, or rather the ‘heart,’ of opsigns and their compositions. The latter are nothing other than slivers of crystal-images.

The crystal-image, or crystalline description, has two definite sides which are not to be confused. for the confusion of the real and the imaginary is a simple error of fact, and does not affect their discernibility: the confusion is produced solely ‘in someone’s head.’ But indiscernibility constitutes an objective illusion; it does not suppress the distinction between the two sides, but makes it unattributable, each side taking the other’s role in a relation which we must describe as reciprocal presupposition, or reversibility. In fact, there is no virtual which does not become actual in relation to the actual, the latter becoming virtual through the same relation: it is a place and its obverse which are totally reversible. These are ‘mutual images’ as Bachelard puts it, where an exchange is carried out. The indiscernibility of the real and the imaginary, or of the present and the past, of the actual and the virtual, is definitely not produced in the head or the mind, it is the objective characteristic of certain existing images which are by nature double. Hence two orders of problems arise, one of structure, the other of genesis. First, what are these consolidates of actual and virtual which define a crystalline structure (in a general, aesthetic, rather than a scientific, sense)? And, later on, what is the genetic process which appears in these structures?

The most familiar case is the mirror. Oblique mirrors, concave and convex mirrors and Venetian mirrors are inseparable from a circuit, as can be seen throughout Ophuls work, and in Losey, especially in Eve and The Serpent. This circuit itself is an exchange: the mirror-image is virtual in relation to the actual character that the mirror catches, but it is actual in the mirror which now leaves the character with only a virtuality and pushes him back out-of-field. The exchange is all the more active when the circuit refers to a polygon with a growing number of sides: as in a face reflected on the facets of a ring, an actor seen in an infinity of twins. When virtual images proliferate like this, all together they absorb the entire actuality of the character, at the same time as the character is no more than one virtuality among others. This situation was prefigured in Welles’s Citizen Kane, when Kane passes between two facing mirrors; but it comes to the fore in its pure state in the famous palace of mirrors in The Lady from Shanghai, where the principle of indiscernibility reaches its peak: a perfect crystal-image where the multiple mirrors have assumed the actuality of the two characters who will only be able to win it back by smashing them all, finding themselves side by side and each killing the other.

–Chapter 4: The Crystals of Time

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Did Thomas Pynchon write Against the Day by playing Solitaire?

January 18th, 2007


I’ve been posting details at our Pynchon blog on a weird reading of Thomas Pynchon’s Against the Day as a card game, or set of card games, in which the book’s characters are unaware that they’re playing cards. At 700 pages in I’m beginning to think the book might be a single card game, and not several, and I’m suspecting that it’s Solitaire, though I don’t play the game myself, so I’m out on a limb.

The possibility being that Thomas Pynchon might have written out his characters, given them plot lines, and then played a game of cards, inventing the connections as required by his need to create four of a kind, arrangements by suit, numerical order, etc. As if he had taken the challenge of post-modernism to heart, to unwrite the writing of the book, and to realize the “thrown-ness” of being by bringing his characters to life as he turns cards over and places them with others. If this were the case, the book’s writing was “in the cards,” arbitrary but fated, a world of possible books, but in which the one we are given is the one that was necessary. If we just tender this proposition, that Thomas Pynchon wished to write a book that could be written by chance, that might be about Life and Ideas in the abstract and general but that would take specific form not through authorial authority alone, he might have written it by playing cards with his own book It’s entirely possible. To write as God and the universe, but to include an element of blind luck or fate in the writing itself, but throwing down card upon card and thus allowing narrative construction to fall out of the game play. There’s still a third of the book to go, but for now I’m thrilled to bits with this possibility.

If you’re reading the book, page and thematic references are over that our Emanating Against the Day, by Thomas Pynchon blog.

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I wager a key to Thomas Pynchon’s "Against the Day"

January 15th, 2007

I’m willing to bet that Against the Day, by Thomas Pynchon, is a multi-faceted card game, in which a deck of cards is taken out for play, by people in different places and times, playing different games (each with its own rules). And that our main characters only come into the light when they are played. Two layers of agency are involved, the characters, who try to get find each other, and who think they have the freedom of will to do so. And the players, who try to play winning hands by getting rid of their cards, and who have various strategies of cheating at the game. Consequently we have a proliferation of fourth dimensional patterns or logics (four of a kind, suits, face cards); we have a deuce who is high or low; we have those trying to separate colors; those trying to get a run (numerical sequence), and so on. Our little characters are thrown in to Being, but as beings, are always becoming other by virtue of the different rules among games in which they are played (and which include Tarot and magic, hence invisibility). It is possible that the cards experience their lives as an eternal return. It is possible Pynchon offers this hope to us. Aces high folks, but correct me if I’m wrong!

The Pynchon blog is picking up speed, as we all discover tha this is no ordinary book at all. I’ve created a number of thematic series pages, and a section for page by page references, as well as a section of secrets. Join us at:

Emanating Against the Day blog

24 Premieres in the Oblong Office…

January 15th, 2007


24, featuring Jack Bauer, Episodes 1 & 2

White House, Oval Office… 24 has just ended on its first cliffhanger of the season. The Pres and pressman Stony No and VP of Vice sit amidst the baked rubble of broken pretzels…

Pres: I want everyone in the Situation Room!… We have a situation.

VP: How’d I look?

Pres: Huh? Now Stony, who’s behind thiis? We’re supposed to driving this war on terror. Did that look like me as President?

Stony No: It was just a television program

Pres, a look of genuine surprise on his face: ?

Stony No: … Now look, we got you on 60 minutes.

Pres: 60 minutes. 60 minutes! How’d they get 24 hours?! Hunh? Stony?

Stony No: It’s only a drama, Mr President. It’s not some reality TV show, you know. Honestly, I don’t see the big fuss here.. Nobody believes that’s what the war on terror looks like. In reality.

Pres, reprising his look of genuine surprise on his face: ?

VP: I thought we were the reality TV show.

Stony, with sarcasm: Well, yes, Mick, we’re all your reality show, yes. It’s just a bit, well, dark, for television.

Pres, confused, finger in ear: Whatsat? Uh. Listen, I-I don’t know how we’re going to get through tomorrow.

Stony Snow: We’ll spin it. No problem.

Pres: Spin it? Just tape it! I mean, isn’t it on that Tee-vo thing? There are ways of getting tapes into the screening room you know (Pres waves a victory salute and attempts to shake his jowls in an impersonation of one of his predecessors, and some would say, kindred spirits, departing the White House lawn)… I’m not going to wait all day like everybody else….

Stony muttering to himself: Should have thought of that before you got your war on.

VP: Eh, now, uh, I get credit for that (finger swaggering in the air)

…(a pregnant, or is it abortive, silence)….

VP: Well look, the government handled it pretty well. I think we looked in charge. Lays the foundation for our domestic…

Pres, fumbling with his earphone: I’m sorry Mick, I didn’t catch that.

Stony: …spying, Mick? Domestic spying program program? To be frank, having you appear during commercial breaks wasnt, exactly, reassuring…

…Pres with his fingers in his ears, custom earbuds hanging from wires now twisting about his head

VP, giving Snow the eye of silence, makes a zipping motion across his mouth and nods in the Pres’s general direction…

Pres, his earphone back in place: What’s this? What are you talking about here? Sorry, my earphones fell out there for a second. You know I can’t hear you without it in. Mickl. … Now where were we? I want to see the next episode now. Stony, can’t you call Fox or something?

VP: I feel a hunting trip coming on…

Stony: Now Mick. No.

Pres: Oh wait fellas. I think I can get it on this iPlod thing.

Planes and Lines in Against the Day, by Thomas Pynchon

January 13th, 2007

Against the Day is organized like A Thousand Plateaus by Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari. It is constructed of planes and surfaces, each a continuum of either space or time. These planes intersect, as do the novel’s subplots and concepts, through a series of dots or plot points connected by narrative arcs, each a line of flight, each borne on the wing and whimsy of Pynchon’s mad characters and historical doubles, and drawn by the invisible hand of an agency whose intrinsic logic is algorithmic, artistic, atomist, ballistic, bled, blown, buried, chemical, conjured, counter-transferred, detonated, differential, disappearing, dug, energized, explosive, forensic, forlorn, found, hallucinated, harmonized, illuminating, impregnated, internalized, literary, lived, logarithmic, lost, loved, melodic, modal, orphaned, passional, painted, played, plotted, political, projected, probabilistic, pursued, pursuing, quantum, recollecting, reflecting, refracting, scientific, screened, screwed, shuffled, spun, strummed, strung, subjective, telegraphed, transferred, vector-based, wired, wirelessly transmitted, or blown by trade wind or un-ticketed time-travel (the two primary modes, and two shadows produced on the book’s jacket cover). Each of Thomas Pynchon’s works has featured both structures favoring death and the lines of flight that escape them, for he recognizes that a structure is defined by that which escapes it. This book is nothing less than the production and reproduction of subjectivity itself–which is an organization of perceptions, affects, and actions. For Pynchon, I believe, subjectivity emerges within the given, not outside it. The deeply Spinozist and Bergsonian ground on which this narrative unfolds provides opportunity for the synthesis of space and time, in the subjective mind, on the basis of images and transformations. Light, here, is connected with matter, and Einstein’s theory of relativity is set against the atomist’s and empiricist’s conviction that the real is concrete. Either space and matter, or time, provide the rule of transformation for any particular line of flight and plane or surface of narrative and event. Points are connected either by the travels of balloonists in space, or time travelers. They meet in a strangely doubled (bi-located) and refracted four dimensional world. The key to live, or death, is in the hands of competing forces seeking to unlock time, light, or matter, each of which are distributed according to a co-ordinal logic of number-location or a logic of movement-time. Whether those who travel by location/position or those who travel by history/time will win remains to be seen, as I’m only half way through. Happy trails fellow readers!

These series will be developed further at our Pynchon blog

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Thomas Pynchon Against the Day: the play of surfaces

December 31st, 2006

I’ve decided to read Against the Day as a multi-dimensional inter-narrative of coinciding realities in differentiated time and space. There are simply too many references to the Big Bang, to altered states of consciousness, alternate realities, to versions of history that could have been, to the inaccuracies, refractions, distortions, and bias introdcced by instruments of mediation, observation, recording, and communication. The tales told are themselves shadowed by events but in light refracted so that we can see them as multiplications and complexifications. Shadows and light, shadows of light.

There is a deep “anthropic principle” behind the cosmology of Pynchon’s Against the Day, a presence of ghosts and memories, a tracing of some kind of weak subjectivity (a post-modern position if there ever was one) whose agency is as erroneous, silly, and misguided as it is also passion-bound to defend liberty and freedom, if not also joy. There is, to cite Deleuze, “A Life” lived, as if behind the backs of our characters. A Reality realized, an Agency actualized, and a Virtual whose vectors suggest that for Pynchon, what could have or might have been are as compelling as what was. Though nothing matters in the end, there’s nothing the matter in the matter that matters to us, so what is the matter with us, since we’re all what matters and what matters to us is the matter of it all?

Constructed out of conceptual, political, social, literary, scientific, and historical plateaus, each a field of research and discovery (indeed, light, crystals, tarot, ghosts, gunpowder, flight, and the earth herself are all planes on which concepts are extended, Beings becoming), connected by lines drawn by families, as threads of a narrative, arcs of a plot, or roped together like the drum kit badly beaten by John Bonham of Led Zeppelin (himself a balloonist and ungainly Chum of Chance whose Chance was ended when he choked on his own chum), Against the Day itself blurs the line between fact and fiction. To Zeppelin’s lead balloon, it’s a Spinal Tap, a mockudocumentary of a work as much pictured in the style of color-by-numbers as written in series of connecting dots and ellipses….

There are many ways to play with surfaces, as there are ways to plumb depths. There is the conventional and proven fact that our ability to perceive reality depends on the reflection (minus absorption) of light off a surface. Without light as a medium (read: Mcluhan, for whom the lightbulb was a medium, and Pynchon, for whom Byron the bulb stole the limelight in a well-lit and lengthy but ultimately finite filmament in Gravity’s Regenbogen), we could not see anything. But if an author is to shed light on history, and if his interest involves the play of surface and depth (a theme of post modernism as well as of linguistics, semiotics, and hermeneutics), he may disassemble his own sight, may use his peripheral vision to catch things seen only when looked at from askance, might employ a prism and separate his light into its component colors. But Pynchon is an artist of the gonzo and it can be hard to tell a kaleidoscope from a prism when you’re looking at it from the other side. Clarity arrives when you set the book down.

Each of the plateaus on which Pynchon has written Against the Day has its own internal consistency. The planes intersect as the novel’s characters pass through them, across them, drift over them, break through them or become lost beneath them. It might be that our balloonists, the Chums of Chance, are like Super Mario and his pals in some strange Rube Goldberg-esque time machine video game, bouncing from level to level and gathering or chucking lives like ballast from a dirigible, their passage around the globe threading its way through the skies, but fading more like the contrails of a modern airplane marking where it has been, than projecting its destiny forward as if threading the eye of a needle whose very point could seal its fate. Pop.

Culture and art, literature, psychology, philosophy, music, and science are the perspectives from which Pynchon sees his subject as well as his craft. If one dominates, it might in fact be film, for Pynchon’s versions are much like visions. Pynchon sees, as Proust smells, and where readers might suffer his editorial style, it is an editing as montage, not as the drifting and lapsing of consciousness it might suggest. I read Against the Day sometimes with the feeling that I’m looking through a Viewmaster, each click bringing a new scene into view, and each seemingly unrelated to the next but for the round circle of time to which they all belong: a surface of infinite depths. For each is a perspective, and in each, we see what we are looking for. And I for one am looking forward to the rest of it!

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