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Approaches to What? 

Georges Perec

(Perec, G. (1973) Species of Spaces and Other Pieces. Penguin, pp. 205-7)

Perec Visage

What speaks to us, seemingly, is always the big event, the untoward, the extra-ordinary: the front-page splash, the banner headlines. Railway trains only begin to exist when they are derailed, and the more passengers that are killed, the more the trains exist. Aeroplanes achieve existence only when they are hijacked. The one and only destiny of motor-cars is to drive into plane trees. Fifty-two weekends a year, fifty-two casualty lists: so many dead and all the better for the news media if the figures keep going up! Behind the event there is a scandal, a fissure, a danger, as if life reveals itself only by way of the spectacular, as if what speaks, what is significant, is always abnormal: natural cataclysms or social upheavals, social unrest, political scandals.

In our haste to measure the historic, significant and revelatory, let’s not leave aside the essential: the truly intolerable, the truly inadmissible. What is scandalous isn’t the pit explosion, it’s working in coalmines. ‘Social problems’ aren’t ‘a matter of concern’ when there’s a strike, they are intolerable twenty-four hours out of twenty-four, three hundred and sixty-five days a year.

Tidal waves, volcanic eruptions, tower blocks that collapse, forest fires, tunnels that cave in, the Drugstore de Champs-Elysées burns down. Awful! Terrible! Monstrous! Scandalous! But where’s the scandal? The true scandal? Has the newspaper told us everything except: not to worry, as you can see life exists, with its ups and downs, things happen, as you can see.
The daily newspapers talk of everything except the daily. The papers annoy me, they teach me nothing. What they recount doesn’t concern me, doesn’t ask me questions and doesn’t answer the questions I ask or would like to ask. What’s really going on, what we’re experiencing, the rest, all the rest, where is it? How should we take account of, question, describe what happens every day and recurs everyday: the banal, the quotidian, the obvious, the common, the ordinary, the infra-ordinary, the background noise, the habitual?

To question the habitual. But that’s just it, we’re habituated to it. We don’t question it, it doesn’t question us, it doesn’t seem to pose a problem, we live it without thinking, as if it carried within it neither question nor answers, as if it weren’t the bearer of any information. This is not longer even conditioning, it’s anaesthesia. We sleep through our lives in a dreamless sleep. But where is our life? Where is our body? Where is our space?

How are we to speak of these ‘common things’, how to track them down rather, how to flush them out, wrest them from the dross in which they remain mired, how to give them a meaning, a tongue, to let them, finally, speak of what is, of what we are. What’s needed perhaps is finally to found our own anthropology, one that will speak about us, will look in ourselves for what for so long we’ve been pillaging from others. Not the exotic anymore, but the endotic.

To question what seems so much a matter of course that we’ve forgotten its origins. To rediscover something of the astonishment that Jules Verne or his readers may have felt faced with an apparatus capable of reproducing and transporting sounds. For the astonishment existed, along with thousands of others, and it’s they which have moulded us.

What we need to question is bricks, concrete, glass, our table manners, our utensils, our tools, the way we spend our time, our rhythms. To question that which seems to have ceased forever to astonish us. We live, true, we breathe, true; we walk, we open doors, we go down staircases, we sit at a table in order to eat, we lie down on a bed in order to sleep. How? Why? Where? When? Why?
Describe your street. Describe another street. Compare.
Make an inventory of you pockets, of your bag.

Ask yourself about the provenance, the use, what will become of each of the objects you take out.
Question your tea spoons.
What is there under your wallpaper?
How many movements does it take to dial a phone number?
Why don’t you find cigarettes in grocery stores? Why not?

It matters little to me that these questions should be fragmentary, barely indicative of a method, at most of a project. It matters a lot to me that they should seem trivial and futile: that’s exactly what makes them just as essential, if not more so, as all the other questions by which we’ve tried in vain to lay hold on our truth.”

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Perec 01

From: Paul Finn on Georges Perec at www.wemadethis.co.uk/

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Making Democracy Legible: A Defiant Typeface

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“We feel free because we lack the language to articulate our unfreedom.” —Slavoj Žižek

For me, Žižek’s words are even more potent in light of recent news about domestic surveillance programs. As a former contractor with the US National Security Agency (NSA), these issues hit especially close to home. During my service in the Korean military, I worked for two years as special intelligence personnel for the NSA, learning first-hand how to extract information from defense targets. Our ability to gather vital SIGINT (Signal Intelligence) information was absolutely easy. But, these skills were only applied outwards for national security and defense purposes — not for overseeing American citizens. It appears that this has changed. Now, as a designer, I am influenced by these experiences and I have become dedicated to researching ways to “articulate our unfreedom” and to continue the evolution of my own thinking about censorship, surveillance, and a free society.

“What does censorship reveal? It reveals fear.” —Julian Assange

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Over the course of a year, I researched and created ZXX, a disruptive typeface which takes its name from the Library of Congress’ listing of three-letter codes denoting which language a book is written in. Code “ZXX” is used when there is: “No linguistic content; Not applicable.” The project started with a genuine question: How can we conceal our fundamental thoughts from artificial intelligences and those who deploy them? I decided to create a typeface that would be unreadable by text scanning software (whether used by a government agency or a lone hacker) — misdirecting information or sometimes not giving any at all. It can be applied to huge amounts of data, or to personal correspondence. I drew six different cuts (Sans, Bold, Camo, False, Noise and Xed) to generate endless permutations, each font designed to thwart machine intelligences in a different way. I offered the typeface as a free download in hopes that as many people as possible would use it.

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This short video shows how the typeface confuses Optical Character Recognition (OCR) artificial intelligence.

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ZXX Bold (readable by OCR software) & ZXX Combination (not-readable by OCR software)

zxx_processProcess sketches testing various OCR software’s readability
Screen shot 2012-04-28 at 9.42.27 PMScreenshot image of PDF OCR X software’s conversion of ZXX
design360mag_coverDesign 360° Magazine Issue No.41

ZXX is a call to action, both practically and symbolically, to raise questions about privacy. But it represents a broader urgency: How can design be used politically and socially for the codification and de-codification of people’s thoughts? What is a graphic design that is inherently secretive? How can graphic design reinforce privacy? And, really, how can the process of design engender a proactive attitude towards the future — and our present for that matter? After releasing the project in May 2012, I was pleased by the fruitful responses I got and shared with the public. I’ve seen the typeface circulate in publications, web environments, and banners, and it was prophetically featured on the cover of Chinese Design 360°Magazine — amusingly censoring Sagmeister & Walsh’s self-expressive nudity.

“I don’t have to write about the future. For most people, the present is enough like the future to be pretty scary.” —William Gibson

Our lives in cyberspace are overloaded with impalpable and extensive personal information that is gathered, intercepted, deciphered, analyzed, and stored. With this information government and corporations can easily create an informational architecture that traps us in the structures of the World Wide Web and social media. Restricting and repressing our communication tools under the name of “homeland security” is only a small step into a totalitarian society. This non-physical-yet-ideological violence is what allows us to lapse into lethargic silence. But really, we shouldn’t be afraid to question the authorities’ continual intrusions.

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National Security Agency’s headquarter in Fort Meade, Maryland

PRISM-project-slideLeaked Prism presentation slide

Edward Snowden, the former CIA employee and whistleblower of NSA’s Project Prism, wasn’t the first man to reveal the vulgarity of the world’s biggest intelligence agency. William Binney, an ex-NSA employee, already disclosed the secrecy of the agency’s perpetual inspections last year. The increasing activities of whistleblowers are a significant cue to the urgency of our diminishing privacy. When surveillance becomes a quotidian exercise, our lives in the network will be completely destroyed. This growing invasion of privacy and militarization of cyberspace dehumanizes us. Government and corporations’ physical, mental, and technological intrusions must stop in order to halt the surveillance state.

“Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”               —Benjamin Franklin

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ZXX ver.02 currently in development

Project ZXX is my humane contribution and homage to the activists, artists, and designers who have been actively fighting for our civil liberties. One such activist is Jacob Appelbaum, an independent computer security researcher and hacker, who co-developed Tor Project to keep our online activities anonymous. Tor Project’s system is structured to bounce around the distributed network of relays, which makes the accumulated metadata dysfunctional. Adam Harvey is an active New York–based artist who has a vast amount of peculiar counter-surveillance projects. Harvey’s works are vital in the way he incorporates privacy matters into provocative fashion aesthetics, such as anti-drone hoodies. Metahaven, an Amsterdam-based design and research studio, might be at the vanguard of critical and social design movements today — mapping the nexus of corporate branding, social media, and government with challenging contemporary graphic design strategies. Hito Steyerl’s How Not to be Seen: A Fucking Didactic Education. MOV File, a piece in the Venice Biennale, humorously depicts the dark side of our visual culture with silly DIY educational videos. Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) launched awebsite to provide Netizens alternative ways to opt out of PRISM. People with creative conscience will be the ones to provoke these discussions.

What Snowden disclosed is nothing new. The stakes for our democracy have always been high. But now there needs to be robust action and discussion about the current state of affairs. Many suggest that we’ve already lost our privacy and are indifferent of the status quo. But I believe that stripping humanity of its freedoms can never be justified as a natural evolution. It’s our duty to call out crimes against democracy.

***I’ve been reading the comments and it seems everyone is concerned about my understanding of how digital text works — ASCII, binary codes, et cetera. As mentioned above, I spent 2 years as intelligence personnel and a year researching so I am fully aware of all that. This project/post is focused on raising awareness, which I should’ve articulated better. That said, it would be great if further conversations ruminated over the growing surveillance state and how we should act. I sincerely appreciate everyone’s time in reading, criticizing, and sharing these matters.

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On an Ungrounded Earth, by Ben Woodard

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On an Ungrounded Earth, by Ben Woodard. Brooklyn, New York: Punctum Books. 118 pages. $12.00, paper. PDF

In a 2011 interview conducted by Bookfriendzy, when asked about why he started his multi-disciplinary journal Collapse, Robin Mackay said (and I’m doing my best to transcribe here), “There were a number of problems that it was designed to address, one of which is the problem of where philosophy can exist outside of the academic environment—because of certain constraints of the academic environment—and the way in which the discipline of philosophy is conducted and constrained, and the conviction that philosophy happens everywhere, not just in philosophy departments.”

It might sound obvious—and a little silly—to think about it that way but the idea of philosophy being created and consumed outside of academia is a relatively recent innovation. Collapse is merely one of several increasingly visible venues publishing philosophical thought outside “philosophy departments,” many of which have hefty presences on the web. Certainly towering figures such as Nick Land, whose writings span a huge variety of subjects, and Quentin Meillassoux, whose landmark 2006 text, After Finitude, helped usher in a new era of “modern” philosophy, have had a major influence over a new generation of thinkers, writers and artists looking to construct arguments without, as Mackay put it, constraints.

As philosophy has moved away from outmoded schools and systems of thought, it’s now acceptable—if not outwardly fashionable—for writers to include examples of both “high” and “low” culture to illustrate and support their points. This leads us to Ben Woodard’s absolutely astounding On an Unground Earth, in which Woodard samples from a dizzying array of literature and media, all primarily centered around the disciplines of philosophy, science-fiction and horror. (Here’s a brief list of references: Deleuze and Guattari, Ray Brassier, Iain Hamilton Grant, Reza Negarestani, Jules Verne, Edgar Allan Poe, H.P. Lovecraft, Thomas Ligotti, Dune, Tremors, Star Trek, Star Wars, The Matrix series, The Technodrome from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Gears of War, Doom 3 and Dead Space—among many, many others.)

The subtitle of On an Ungrounded Earth is “Toward a New Geophilosophy.” As the back cover copy states, “In far too much continental philosophy, the Earth is a cold, dead place enlivened only by human thought—either as a thing to be exploited, or as an object of nostalgia.” One of Woodard’s contemporaries, Eugene Thacker, has written that there are three ways of interpreting the world as we know it: 1) the world-for-us, or the world in which we live; 2) the world-in-itself, or the inaccessible world which we then turn into the world-for us; and 3) the world-without-us, or the spectral and speculative world. In these terms then, Woodard’s Ungrounded Earth seeks to explore the relationship between human consciousness and the world-without-us.

Arranged in five sections—and despite its relatively brief page count—the text of On an Ungrounded Earth covers quite a bit of…well, ground. Abyssal and external “ungroundings,” giant worms, the panic of burial, the “dimensions” of hell, volcanic orifices—these are only a few of the topics explored. Because this is philosophy, and so much of the text builds off of ideas and concepts introduced in earlier passages, it’s difficult to pull any excerpts without disrupting Woodard’s meticulous terminology and contextualized language. Suffice it to say, that language is approachable and articulate. I wouldn’t exactly go so far as to call it accessible, but it’s certainly very readable. Overall, an excellent balance is struck between introducing new ideas, analyzing those ideas and explaining how everything relates back to the core idea of the book.

Part of that core is a deeply rooted fascination with the idea of philosophy itself, of “philosophically experiencing” the earth as we have come to understand it. On an Ungrounded Earth is one of an increasing number of texts that might be best described as speculative realism. Characterized by strong undercurrents of “anti-correlationism,” or, an outright rejection to Kant’s idea that we are limited to the correlation between thinking and being, speculative-realist texts are enjoying a good amount of attention in times of ecological imbalance and chaotic world trends. In 2013, a lot of us have spent the majority of our lives with the Internet. We have a constant supply of too much information—the anxiety of a shrinking world. We’ve long-ago accepted the idea of the universe expanding, seen a hundred movies depicting the destruction of our planet and helplessly witnessed the major religions of the world clash with one another again and again. Perhaps this is it. Perhaps whatever meaning there is to be found isn’t contained in the world-for-us. Perhaps, Woodard urges, the meaning we seek is right under our very feet—and has been for quite some time.

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David Peak’s most recent book, Glowing in the Dark, was released by Aqueous Books in October, 2012. He is co-founder of Blue Square Press, an imprint of Mud Luscious Press, and lives in New York City.

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Essays: Scratching the Surface pre-order price £16.50, the first 100 copies will be signed by the author

Scratching the Surface is a collection of essays and journalism by Adrian Shaughnessy, focusing mainly on graphic design. Essays include: ‘2012 Olympic logo ate my hamster’; ‘Vaughan Oliver – minotaurs in suburban England’; and ‘The myth of originality and the joy of copying’.

The essays have appeared on blogs such as Design Observer, and in publications such as Eye, Creative Review, Design Week and The Wire. Many others have appeared only in tiny circulation publications.

The book’s introduction opens with a disconcerting question: ‘Why would anyone want to read about graphic design?’ Despite assertions that ‘designers don’t read’, there has, in recent years, been a huge upsurge of interest in design writing: courses have been established to teach the subject, and many designers now combine design and writing within their practices.

In 2003, Adrian Shaughnessy gave up studio life to become an independent designer, consultant, publisher, teacher and writer. He wrote the highly successful How to be a Graphic Designer Without Losing your Soul which has sold 80,000 copies worldwide.

Scratching the Surface is a book for anyone who wants to scratch the surface of the cultural zeitgeist to see what’s underneath.


Paperback
170x225mm
400 pages
ISBN 978-0-9575114-0-8
Pre-order price £16.50
Standard price £20.00


Essays: Adrian Shaughnessy
Design: Spin


Shipping end of May to early June 2013

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Speculations IV, June 2013, ISBN: 978-0615797861

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If philosophy begins in wonder, then where does it end? What is its end? Aristotle said that while it begins in wondrous questioning, it ends with “the better state” of attaining answers, like an itch we get rid of with a good scratch or a childhood disease that, once gotten over, never returns. How depressing! Why can’t a good question continue being questionable or, in a more literal translation of the German, “question-worthy?” As Heidegger puts it, “philosophical questions are in principle never settled as if some day one could set them aside.” Couldn’t we learn from questions without trying to settle them, resolve ourselves to not resolving them? Couldn’t wisdom be found in reconciling ourselves to its perpetual love, and never its possession? Wittgenstein once wrote that “a philosophical problem has the form: ‘I don’t know my way about,’” which was the symptom of the deep confusion that constituted philosophy for him. But Heidegger loved wandering aimlessly in the woods, following Holzwege or paths that lead nowhere, stumbling onto dead-ends which could also be clearings.

–Lee Braver, “On Not Settling the Issue of Realism”

Download Speculations IV as a PDF.

Purchase print edition HERE.

–TABLE OF CONTENTS–

Editorial Introduction

PART I: REFLECTIONS

On Not Settling the Issue of Realism
Lee Braver

Politics and Speculative Realism
Levi R. Bryant

The Current State of Speculative Realism
Graham Harman

Weird Reading
Eileen A. Joy

A Very Dangerous Supplement: Speculative Realism, Academic Blogging, and the Future of Philosophy
Adam Kotsko

Speculative Realism: Interim Report with Just a Few Caveats
Christopher Norris

The Future of an Illusion
Jon Roffe

Realism and Representation: On the Ontological Turn
Daniel Sacilotto

PART II: PROPOSALS

“The World is an Egg”: Realism, Mathematics, and the Thresholds of Difference
Jeffrey A. Bell

Ontological Commitments
Manuel DeLanda

The Meaning of “Existence” and the Contingency of Sense
Markus Gabriel

Post-Deconstructive Realism: It’s About Time
Peter Gratton

Points of Forced Freedom: Eleven (More) Theses on Materialism
Adrian Johnston

Realism and the Infinite
Paul M. Livingston

How to Behave Like a Non-Philosopher, or, Speculative Versus Revisionary Metaphysics
John Mullarkey

“The Horror of Darkness”: Toward an Unhuman Phenomenology
Dylan Trigg

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Frieze

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Issue 156: The Fiction Issue

For this special Fiction Issue of frieze, nine writers and artists consider how narrative will change as technology advances. Featuring: Fatima Al Qadiri, James Bridle, Ian ChengOrit Gat, Lev Manovich, Christiane Paul, Alexander ProvanTimotheus Vermeulen and Holly Willis. 

Plus, Katie Kitamura looks at how art can visualize political realities through the artifice of fiction; Laura Pawson asks whether it’s an artist’s duty to bear witness to suffering; and Ben Lerner reflects on whether objects are more real than words.

More highlights include: Dan Fox talks to artist David Levine; Questionnaire with Dayanita Singh;Rajeev Balasubramanyam on national identity and ‘global fiction’; film director Pablo Larraindiscusses the merging of fact and fiction with Rob White; and an extract from Lynne Tillman’s novel-in progress ‘Men and Apparitions’.

In our regular columns: Tom Morton considers the changing face of graduate exhibitions; Kaelen Wilson-Goldie looks at prisoners of conscious and creative acts; and Jason Farago signs up to De Appel’s new course in art dealing.

Also: 37 reviews from 29 cities in 17 countries, including: ‘Umhlaba 1913-2013’, Iziko South African National Gallery, Cape Town; and ‘Sharjah Biennial 11’, various venues, UAE.

Read More | Subscribe Now

Frieze 1 Montclare Street, London E2 7EU, UK, | Tel: +44 (0) 20 3372 6111
Email: info@frieze.com | www.frieze.com

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2013 HANNAH ARENDT PRIZE

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Photograph of Hannah Arendt, NYC, 1944. Courtesy of the Estate of Fred Stein (fredstein.com)

THE HANNAH ARENDT PRIZE IN CRITICAL THEORY AND CREATIVE RESEARCH: CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS

Original Writing on Critical Theory and Creative Research

Award presented by the MA in Critical Theory and Creative Research Program
Entry submission: essay of 1,500 words or less

Application deadline: Friday, May 31, 2013

Theme: On Art and Disobedience; Or, What Is an Intervention?

Cash award: 5,000 USD

Winner announced by Saturday, August 31, 2013

Please note that essays over the limit will be disqualified.

The Hannah Arendt Prize in Critical Theory and Creative Research is an annual competition for those interested in the juncture of art and creative research and in the principles at the heart of the arts and humanities, including sense-based intelligence; the reality of singular, nonrepeatable phenomena; ethical vision; and consilience between inner and outer, nature and reason, thought and experience, subject and object, self and world.

Application for the prize is open to the general public. Download the PDF application and email the completed application and the essay (in a .doc or .pdf format) to ctcrprize@pnca.edu.

Explication of theme:

“To disobey in order to take action is the byword of all creative spirits. The history of human progress amounts to a series of Promethean acts. But autonomy is also attained in the daily workings of individual lives by means of many small Promethean disobediences, at once clever, well thought out, and patiently pursued, so subtle at times as to avoid punishment entirely. All that remains in such a case is an equivocal, diluted form of guilt. I would say that there is good reason to study the dynamics of disobedience, the spark behind all knowledge.”

Gaston Bachelard, Fragments of a Poetics of Fire

Intervention is an omnipresent if not ubiquitous word in contemporary discourse, but what forms does it take in the age of genetic engineering and real-time media? Is the concept a decoy or distraction in the face of futility? A cover or compensation for hopeless battles and set-ups? Is it simply working to slow down the Inevitable, a notion that in and of itself works as a major obstacle to critical thought and action? Or is it something more serious, more durable, and more dangerous? What is the relation of critique and intervention, theory and practice? And what role does art play in what Bachelard called “creative disobedience,” acts of Prometheanism “so subtle at times as to avoid punishment entirely”? Might art now comprise one of the last forms of political stealth, working in increasingly sophisticated time-based ways? What kinds of thought and action are powerful and compelling interventions today, whether one-off spectacles, sabots, monkey wrenches, sleepers, gummy bears, or Trojan Horses?

Along with Anne-Marie Oliver and Barry Sanders, Founding Co-Chairs, MA in Critical Theory and Creative Research, Pacific Northwest College of Art, the judges for 2013 include

Claire Bishop, Professor of Contemporary Art, Theory and Exhibition History, Graduate Center, The City University of New York

Judith Butler, Professor of Rhetoric and Comparative Literature, The University of California, Berkeley, and Hannah Arendt Professor of Philosophy, Europäische Universität für Interdisziplinäre Studien/EGS

Barbara Duden, Professor Emerita, Leibniz Universität Hannover

Julia Kristeva, Professor Emerita and Head of the École doctorale Langues, Littératures, Images, Université Paris Diderot, Paris 7, and recipient of the Hannah Arendt Award for Political Thought

Heike Kühn, Film Critic
Martha Rosler, Artist and contributor to the Hannah Arendt Denkraum (on the occasion of Hannah Arendt’s 100th birthday)

For information about last year’s competition, please see

http://www.artandeducation.net/announcement/the-hannah-arendt-prize-call-for-entries

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