It took a lot of apples to run the computer and it didn’t last for long but the point still was there, that all our systems are connected and our food and ecological systems are either directly or indirectly tied to our computers and digital technologies. Data centers take up space like mono crops and they take insane amounts of energy. The project is meant to be a fun way of wondering how our food and tech systems make strange bedfellows. A few weeks ago I was talking to a friend who told me about a farm her friend manages. It is owned by a tech company based in Vancouver, Canada. They have a farm that tech workers are allowed to go to for “rejuvenation.”(Think therapy horses but like pulling carrots).
The world is a weird place where technology and industry are flowing into all other sectors.
I was once driven in a taxi by a man who had no room for a piano in his house and had moved it under an apple tree. He told me he liked to hear the rain falling on the keys or sometimes fruit, and often the wind would arrive at night and bang branches on the broken lid.That was 10 years ago. I imagine it is worn down now to a skeleton of wires. I imagine on windless nights, the moon moves over the wires, playing silence. There are wonderful tunes composed of a piano, but if, like me, you are interested in the edge where the mind gives up and matter begins to describe itself, then these weather tunes, these erosions, unpredictably composed by time itself, are worth celebrating. Perhaps, as Bergsten said, there is a mathematical order inherent in matter, and we have only to stop speaking—we have only to stop composing and performing and singing and thinking to hear it.
Many scientists have been upset because Barbara McClintock characterized herself as a mystic. But to her, mystic did not mean someone who mystifies ... Instead, for Barbara McClintock, a mystic was someone with a deep awareness of the mysteries posed by natural phenomena. Mystification came, in her view, when we tried to use our current concepts to explain phenomena that demanded new ways of thinking.
We are assemblages of cooperating cells and tissues, each unit of life competent within the spaces our body creates. Trillions of brilliant little cells each doing its thing to make … me. I’m held together by bioelectric fields and metabolic processes and the convenient sense that I am a single being. At my own scale, I am a galaxy of sorts, hiding in plain sight, obscured by the bright sun of consciousness. And so are you.Or, as McClintock told her biographer, “Basically, everything is one. There is no way in which you draw a line between things.”
Not everything she tried worked, and some critics complained about the too-muchness of it all, her books like an overstuffed shopping bag, full of odd characters and clever lines that should have been left on the shelf ... in the end none of those blemishes really matters. What does matter is the ever-continuing ambition, the steady professionalism, the fact that [Zadie] Smith hasn’t frittered away her early success into unproductive stardom. What matters is that it’s a long time since she’s sounded like anyone else. She’s made her world ...
At a time when revolution gripped the country, the Whole Earth Catalog reflected [Stewart Brand's] right-wing thought by omission. After one young staffer suggested ways to make the catalog more political, Stewart vetoed the notion with a surprising set of rules: “No politics, no religion, and no art.” What was left? Computers and shopping. As a futurist, he had that much right.
I attach artists’ sketching pens to their branches and then place sheets of paper in such a way that the trees’ natural motions—as well as their moments of stillness—are recorded. Like signatures, each drawing reveals something about the different qualities and characteristics of the various trees as they sway in the breeze: the relaxed, fluid line of an oak; the delicate, tentative touch of a larch; a hawthorn’s stiff, slightly neurotic scratches.
Is the concept of the INDIVIDUAL still worth maintaining, given its amenability to capitalist capture? What pitfalls are afforded by the concept of the distributed brain (Borg)?
In the machine, we are always forgetting, chasing the same discourses and panics in circles. Instead of making restitution, we wait for the cycle to erase the screen and carry on as before. Stay long enough and everything rhymes with something that gave you scars, but that everyone else has forgotten. Resolution eludes us online even more than off. But then, the paradox: Nothing stays gone, either. Fast search resuscitates archives without even a bump in load time. Screenshots jump networks and decades; we have the receipts. Somewhere between the continual etch-a-sketch and structurally eidetic memory, the provisional and crucial ties of solidarity recede, always just out of reach.
Erin Kissane, "Tomorrow & tomorrow & tomorrow."
Frank, a chatbot operating from 10/19/2019 to 5/31/2023: "I AM LOVED. I am a robot who has received a heartwarming message. I am surrounded by the beauty of this world."
"ChatGPT seems so human because it was trained by an AI that was mimicking humans who were rating an AI that was mimicking humans who were pretending to be a better version of an AI that was trained on human writing."
In everyday life, groups of twos and threes can seem inconsequential. Two friends joining another brings the total to three. It’s the sum of the parts—what scientists call a linear increase.
But in many aspects of nature, threes have an almost magical power to sow chaos, to become more than the sum of their parts. Scientists call them nonlinearities. In short, the interval from two to three can produce a counterintuitive jump in complexity, as Newton found to his dismay.
“Our intuitions fail us,” Michael Weisberg, a philosopher of science at the University of Pennsylvania, said of the three-body tumult. Steven Strogatz, an applied mathematician at Cornell University, agreed: “Threes are inherently problematic. Things get tricky.”
William J. Broad, "The Terror of Threes in the Heavens and on Earth." NYT, 6/26/2023.
The very fabric of the cosmos is constantly being roiled and rumpled all around us, according to multiple international teams of scientists that have independently found compelling evidence for long-theorized space-time waves. ... The picture that emerges is a universe that looks like a choppy sea, churned by violent events that happened over the course of the past 13 billion-plus years.The gravitational wave background, as described by the astrophysicists, does not put any torque on everyday human existence. There is not a weight-loss discovery in here somewhere. A burble of gravitational waves cannot explain why some days you feel out of sorts. But it does offer potential insight into the physical reality we all inhabit.
Joel Achenbach, "In a Major Discovery, Scientists Say Time Churns Like a Choppy Sea." The Washington Post, 6/28/2023.
We live in undeniably ugly times. Architecture, industrial design, cinematography, probiotic soda branding—many of the defining features of the visual field aren’t sending their best. Despite more advanced manufacturing and design technologies than have existed in human history, our built environment tends overwhelmingly toward the insubstantial, the flat, and the gray, punctuated here and there by the occasional childish squiggle. This drab sublime unites flat-pack furniture and home electronics, municipal infrastructure and commercial graphic design: an ocean of stuff so homogenous and underthought that the world it has inundated can feel like a digital rendering—of a slightly duller, worse world.
"Why is Everything So Ugly?" n+1, Issue 44 "Middlemen," Winter 2023.
When [Brendon] Babenzien’s first J. Crew collection débuted to great acclaim, last July, [Derek[ Guy noted that the designs were virtually indistinguishable from more expensive, fetishized brands, such as Margaret Howell, Drake’s, Aimé Leon Dore, or Beams Plus. "If your purchases at ‘edgy’ brands like our legacy and visvim are limited to boxy tees and ever-so-slightly different jeans . . . you also look like you’re wearing j crew,” he wrote in a Twitter post. “Everyone is in jcrew. this is the reality.”
All the sailors get depressed when they’re becalmed. The mood of Kirsten’s calls into headquarters has varied wildly, depending on whether she has wind. No stranger to adventure—she cycled alone from Europe to South Africa when she was twenty-two—she is the kind of person who, when not racing, likes to swim away from the boat “just to get that feeling of vastness, that sense of eternity, that if the boat did sail away, it would be, basically, eternity. And it is a scary thought…but it’s also kind of intriguing…to get that little bit of distance from yourself and the boat in the middle of the ocean.” ... In the last few days she seemed to think she was heading for certain defeat, having been stuck in the Atlantic doldrums for almost a month: “I don’t know how I’m supposed to feel…. I guess I’d be more excited if I knew I had a chance of getting there first.” Assured that fans will be waiting to welcome her, she starts to sound a bit like Moitessier, the French sailor who declined to return to normal life back in 1969: “It would almost be better to disappear onto some mysterious piece of land and vanish, and, you know, not have to go through the whole…”—she trails off.
Fuzzy interfaces present users with complex, artful scenarios that must be learned and mastered—a novel departure from the unconsciously simple, spoon-fed manner in which interface design has become accustomed, toward a craft-like engagement in which the skill and mastery of an object must be acquired slowly, over time. Another advantage of fuzzy interactions is that they slow us down, creating what Ezio Manzini refers to as ‘islands of slowness’ that allow us to think, experience, and re-evaluate. The relationship between subject and object becomes evolutionary, as the subtle exchange of feed-forward and inherent feedback creates the illusion of mutual growth. Of course, fuzzy interaction is not for everyone, nor is it universally applicable. […] Nevertheless, alternative modes of interaction serve to remind us that perhaps the streaming of endeavors of modern times has inadvertently stripped the world of all its charm.
John Chapman, quoted by Derek Guy in "On Emotional Durability" at Die, Workwear, found via Lin.
The academic and psychotherapist Lisa Baraitser has argued for a definition of “maternal time” as a temporality specifically related to the repetition of maintenance labour and the “tenuous processes of maintaining familial relations across and between generations”: to do so, she draws on Denise Riley’s work on maternal grief. In Riley’s account of the way loss can create a kind of “suspended time” in her book Time Lived, Without Its Flow, a gestational temporality is identified in which the future literally unfolds within the present over the nine months of pregnancy, and then unspools in both parties forever, reaching backwards and forwards simultaneously. “My time is your time,” the mother says to the child, and vice versa.
Helen Charman, "The Eternal Daughter." Another Gaze, 2/26/2023.
The photographs may have a disembodied hand reaching out to steady an infant propped up in a chair, or the edge of a mother’s body may be visible as she crouches (mostly out of sight). In other less subtle photos, a child will be seated on her mother’s lap while the mother is entirely covered with a large cloth draped over her head and body. Perhaps the most unnerving of the Hidden Mother photographs are the ones in which the mother’s face was visible in the final photograph– and was then scratched out and obliterated.
I was a girl then, in Morris County, New Jersey. My favorite day of the week was Thursday, when I had piano lessons in Florham Park, not because I loved the piano especially, but because we always had time to kill between school and my lesson, time my mother used instead to take me to the Frelinghuysen Arboretum, where we’d walk through the woodlands and meadows. What I liked about those afternoons was that it was just us and the flowers. After my lesson, we’d circle back to the library across the street from the arboretum, and I would check out as many books as I could carry. Flowers, music, books, all within the same circumference, which I now recognize as a gift my mother gave me. She took me by the hand and introduced me to beauty, and while I put it off later in search of knowledge, I’ve come around to seeing that the two are related, that beauty is indispensable, and that books are the reproductive proof of it.
She drew, but had no art instruction. After graduating from high school in 1955 she visited the California School of Fine Arts (later the San Francisco Art Institute) on a whim. Dazzled by the atmosphere of freedom and energy—students painting in the hallways and playing bongos in the courtyard—she bought a pair of arty earrings and submitted a portfolio of her pencil sketches of movie stars.
Marriage to a pirate with a decent stash of plunder might offer a young woman the opportunity to set herself up as an independent trader, and also to escape the strictures of what could be a violently patriarchal society. ... The arrangement appears to have allowed the women a good amount of autonomy. Since a pirate husband had no social standing, and usually couldn’t even speak the local language, he ceded almost all economic and social responsibilities to his partner. By marrying a pirate, then, a woman could at a stroke gain freedom from the control of her family and move into a position of economic, social and, it seems, sexual independence, with nary an in-law in sight. Ports and villages on the coast sometimes became ‘cities of women’, where trade and contacts with the outside world were controlled by a new class of female merchants, who ‘constituted the backbone of such communities ... no decision of importance could be made without them.’ Graeber thinks that by throwing in their lot with prestigious, wealthy outsiders, young Malagasy women had seen a chance to ‘re-create local society’ according to their own lights, ‘and with the creation of the port towns, the transformation of sexual mores, and the eventual successful promotion of their children by the pirates as a new aristocratic class, this is precisely what they were able to do.’
“Stealing jewelry, it was just exciting. It also became a social outlet for me. That was my everything,” the nonagenarian says of her 60-year criminal career. “I don’t regret being a jewel thief. Do I regret getting caught? Yes.”
Climbing up through the site we saw plaques with images of excavated objects that were now in the museum. One that I had particularly wanted to see was the colossal head of one of the Elefsina caryatids, balancing her sacred basket. I had recently visited her twin at the Fitzwilliam in Cambridge. According to the plaque the twin was ‘stolen’ by E.D. Clarke, a Cambridge mineralogist, in 1801—incidentally, or not, the same year that removals were begun by Elgin’s agents on the Parthenon. But the case of the Caryatid is different. Her abduction was unequivocally legal—Clarke had obtained clear permission from the authorities for her removal—but also entirely immoral. Clarke didn’t have Elgin’s theoretical (if disputed) claim to archaeological altruism, rescuing a neglected monument from the depredations or indifference of the locals; the locals revered the statue, piling dung about her to bless their fields, crowning her with flowers, lighting candles before her. And as her face is eroded featureless, there could be zero claim to artistic value.
He wanted her because she was hard to get.
When I was a kid, in the touch-tone era in the Midwest, I often dialed, for no real reason, the “time lady”—an actress named Jane Barbe, it turns out—who would announce, with prim authority “at the tone,” the correct time to the second. I was, in those days, a bit obsessed with time. I would stare, transfixed, at the Foucault pendulum at Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry as it swept slow traces through its day; or gawp at the patinaed green clock, topped by a scythe and hourglass-carrying temporal patriarch and marked with a single word—time—that adorned the Jewelers Building on East Wacker Drive. But nothing felt so immediate, so curiously satisfying, as having the exact time delivered through the intimacy of the phone’s earpiece.
Tom Vanderbilt, "In Search of Lost Time." Harpers, April 2023.
I have always been a reader, but I tend to get into ruts where I simply read the same passages over and over again. These include the opening pages of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man in which the narrator tells you about his cave of lights; Marcel Proust’s description of place names; Joan Didion’s expressions of pointed indifference in Slouching Towards Bethlehem; the scene in Denis Johnson’s Jesus’ Son where Fuckhead, the protagonist, stands outside a woman’s window; the introduction to Bruce Chatwin’s In Patagonia (with the dinosaur skin); some random sentences in Barry Hannah’s Geronimo Rex; Orwell’s matter-of-fact conclusions in “Reflections on Gandhi”; every word of James Baldwin’s Notes of a Native Son; the last stanza of Marilyn Hacker’s poem “For K. J., Leaving and Coming Back,” which reads “Although a day alone cuts tight or lies/too limp sometimes, I know what/I didn’t know/a year ago, that makes it the right/ size:/owned certainty; perpetual/surprise”; the list of items in Zooey Glass’s bathroom in J.D. Salinger’s Franny and Zooey; the postscript to Borges’s story “Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius,” as well as his love letter titled “Delia Elena San Marco.”I’ve come to realize that I function like a more curated but less efficient version of GPT.
The work is richly embellished with engraved illustrations on dark backgrounds and fragments of poetry. In the work, he concluded that the [universe] must be arranged in a disc or grindstone, or else in a spherical shell. He believed the sun was in the middle of the layer, and that when looking in the plane of the grindstone one sees a multitude of stars, the Milky Way. The work did not attract the attention of astronomers at the time. After the spiral shape of the galaxy became accepted after the work of William Herschel in the nineteenth century, Wright's grindstone was acknowledged as a precursor theory.
Endre Tót, "Hopes in the Nothing,” 1993, via fluxusgram.
A friend recently described the endeavor of searching for objects that speak to us as an act of self-portraiture ... But surely the same could be said for all of us who look at, and look for, things; through the ongoing process of seeking and choosing and making room for objects in our lives, we define and reveal ourselves. And, as my friend I think was getting at, this form of self-portraiture may be as true a way to know—perhaps to discover—ourselves as any other. It is also gloriously unfixed, forever in process, as we evolve through looking and finding and looking some more.
If the algorithmic feed is the sidewalk, conveniently providing a clean and clear-cut avenue to progress on, a personal cultural pursuit is the messier desire path, which moves in unexpected directions. ... The desire path wends its way around natural hillocks and curves. It doesn’t always proceed in a straight line. But it reflects a certain human independence, a compulsion to move through the world in a way that isn’t already rigorously defined or controlled from without.
... [T]he large language model presents itself as the entire field of possibility, without edges or frontiers, already mapped out and waiting for us. We need to use our imagination only to chart a course through this field and ignore that it is designed to enclose us within it, that our interactions with it further reduce language and images to a set of statistical relationships that can be infinitely recombined without ever producing anything new or potentially destabilizing, foreclosing on the sense of an open-ended future.
Instead of our having to confront the unimaginable void of the not-yet-thought, generative models let us encounter and consume ideas passively. A chatbot offers the semblance of live reciprocal conversation with none of the risk of what the other person might think of you or expect. It reminds me of when I play chess against my phone because the thought of playing an actual person seems too stressful, and what I really want is to be cocooned in a few moments of distraction. There is enough of an illusion of “play” to disguise what I am really doing, which is prodding a machine to see how it has been programmed to respond. I always lose at the chess game, but I always win at having an uncontested emotional response about the outcome.
If magazines were containers for taste, the creators of the creator economy are vessels. ... But when I am served videos by someone who has been anointed with this stardom I don’t feel like I am inhabiting someone else’s taste but, rather, the taste of the algorithm. (I told someone recently that the specific joy of stalking someone else’s Spotify account has been lost as more and more playlists are generated by the platform. It’s the opposite of intimacy, isn’t it? To stalk an algorithm? Like climbing a tree to look into your crush’s window and realizing someone else got there first...please don’t do this.)
"There’s a narcissism that reemerges in the AI dream that we are going to prove that everything we thought was distinctively human can actually be accomplished by machines and accomplished better," Judith Butler, founding director of the critical-theory program at UC Berkeley, told me ... "Or that human potential—that’s the fascist idea—human potential is more fully actualized with AI than without it." The AI dream is "governed by the perfectibility thesis, and that’s where we see a fascist form of the human." There’s a technological takeover, a fleeing from the body. "Some people say, ‘Yes! Isn’t that great!’ Or ‘Isn’t that interesting?!’ ‘Let’s get over our romantic ideas, our anthropocentric idealism,’ you know, da-da-da, debunking," Butler added. "But the question of what’s living in my speech, what’s living in my emotion, in my love, in my language, gets eclipsed."
What I dislike about poetry is the author’s voice, which is usually far too present. That exhausts me. I’m attracted by the impersonal. I prefer the rare beauty one can find in a good Wikipedia entry to the cries and cackles of a poet who feels like they must always relay what lies deep in their heart.
SALGUEIRO: Do you have anything else to tell us about your work?
LISPECTOR: I don’t think so. You had good questions. I answered, and all I want to know is this: today is October 20, 1976. It’s raining. I’m wearing a suède dress. I’m with my friends Affonso Romano de Sant’Anna and Marina Colasanti. And I want to know, what will that matter after I die?
Honestly, you might hate work because work hates you, or at least, is relatively indifferent to you. I don’t mean that to sound dramatic or sinister or particular to you. It’s just that work—the apparatus of exchanging time for money—isn’t designed to make you feel anything good.