Tag Archives: manifesto

What Could the Internet Have Been?: Announcing the New Arcades Project

Writing about the internet is a singularly overwhelming task, one that provides fresh new sources of consideration. I constantly run into the problem of the endless multiplicity; an overview of the scope of the dream of what the internet was to become, a project I’ve been working on to eventually introduce to the site, a project far from completion, calls for an entirely new sort of academic protocol. The incidental blindnesses of earlier academic activity, the idea that ideas could exist outside themselves, an analog to the anxious wish we could perfect ourselves if we could only look at ourselves from the outside, can’t be leaned on. It’s often said that it’s very hard to be objective; this is of course a load of horseshit-it’s impossible to be entirely objective. It’s even harder to be subjective competently. The phenomena to be analyzed grow larger and larger; the most such a project can hope for is to poetically suggest new means of looking at what’s going on and moving too quickly for any of us to feel any confidence in comprehension.

The time of projects built around notions of comprehension and the comprehensive is at both its apex and falling action. An…ahem…a friend tells me there’s a nearly complete set of every comic book published by Marvel, DC, and Charlton comics run chronologically available through some blackmarket file distro-hub thing; things that were meant to be seen piecemeal and related to in their disposable ephemerality are now available freely and easily as complete epic texts; I can browse every issue of The Weekly World News on Google books. At the same time, we’re dialecticians aren’t we? So we recognize that the response to the availability of such things will be more dissolute and speculative than ever; in the face of their present totality the fact of this presence is what will and must be engaged.

Some of our readers are surely familiar with Walter Benjamin’s The Arcades Project, one of the great unfinished composite texts that prefigured the current form of the internet. In a conversation about the Frankfurt School Dylan Pasture helpfully summed it up in the following formulation: “Minima Moralia was Adorno’s blog, The Arcades Project was Benjamin’s tumblr.”

For those unfamiliar, The Arcades Project is a massive unfinished book compiling ephemeral fragments on late 19th century Paris. It’s named for the arcades that would lead between the buildings. It’s possibly the greatest bathroom reader ever compiled. Benjamin hadn’t completed it by the time he killed himself in 1940 and the version we have now wasn’t assembled and printed until 1980. It’s structured like an encyclopedia, but as an encyclopedia ordered by related words and themes into which fragments of documents and other books and occasional speculative musings by Benjamin are compiled. Reading through it one gets the sense that the only proper way Benjamin could complete the text was by leaving it unfinished.

Its focus on the specific time period as a lens through which to grasp the larger shifts in culture and technology that were occurring and soon accelerated marked the most complete integration of what Benjamin took from Marxist and Kabbalistic schools of thought and theory and merged them with a tendency, noted by biographers, to obsess over extremely small objects. He was a single man trying to curate the mundane into a thing that could evoke the emanated ghost/geist of the present through recourse to the forgotten bits of the past.

Major turning points of historical upheaval have been following each other in rapid succession at an unprecedented fashion for a good deal longer than I’ve been alive; what traits define an initial perusal of The Arcades Project have shifted. Initially an encyclopedia noteworthy for its sheer breadth and depth, in a world awash in well populated wikis, to return to the pages of The Arcades Project now is to notice its elliptical qualities. It’s an encyclopedia that becomes art for all the right pages having been torn out.

And so I announce now a project I’ve been squirreling away bits and pieces of things for and conceptualizing in my head for a couple months now. I hope to have the bare bones wiki up tomorrow so I can start populating it with fragments I’ve been collecting for a while now and set up a first version of the abstract organizing categories. I call this The (New)/(Video) Arcades Project.

This project will be the realization of the schizophrenic reading principles and notion of the hyper cut-up I announced in my earlier manifesto.

It will have the following rules initially, though these will be subject to revision as they prove to be more or less useful over time.

The content will consist of:

  1. Textual and visual fragments from documents produced before 1995 speculating on what the internet or hypertext might become. The reach of what this could be can be wide, but it will carefully be curated. This could potentially include descriptions of activities and events before 1995 from histories written after 1995.
  2. Schizophrenic reading screenshots of the internet present. Again, curated for effect.

This content will be organized by:

  1. Words evoking repeated themes.
  2. The year the piece of text was produced. A fragment of text that cites another text from a different year in itself will be indexed under both years.

The content expressly will not be organized or interlinked by:

  1. Author (though fragments will be attributed, you can’t click the author’s name to find other fragments they wrote.)
  2. Source (though sources will be included.)

It will not have a search function and if possible, search by Google will be blocked on it so that it has to be perused like a maze. It will be curated to be evocatively elliptical in a way something like Wikipedia can’t be.

Anyone willing to comb through a big pile of documents with me for snippets is welcome to suggest themselves as a contributor in the comments.

I hope to roll the beginnings of this out in the morning.

Reading the Internet Schizophrenically: A Manifesto

When I lived in Brooklyn, I used to take long walks on free days past the White Castle toward the big Hispanic strip in Sunset Park. To make walking more interesting, I would count the number of paint jobs on the sides of buildings had been weathered to the point of resembling Mark Rothko paintings. My high score was 13. It was then that I realized non-representational art did not exist; that its supposed non-representation was actually just the representation of things excised from conscious perception due to their perceived meaninglessness.

The above pictures are three screenshots I took of various mobile websites with my phone. The rich, unaware interplay of tiny blurry symbolic images, when laid out one after another, unaltered besides their having been cropped, show at what a rudimentary level society recreates itself by drawing images and types of text into familiar easily repeatable patterns, the little square photographs unfolding endless like pictures of some unseen person’s children cascading from a wallet. Disjointed sequences emerge, somewhere between pharmaceutical-induced visions and newspaper comics. It’s tempting to say that enough of them laid out could constitute an avant-garde graphic novel we could simply call “The Internet.” Perhaps I’ll make this.

There have been numerous analogies made between the space of advertising in a mass media society and the space of the subconscious. These analogies tend toward the infantilizing the subconscious. Advertising is our “cave art” etc. The means of discussion tend toward evasions of discussion; we know this is the internet’s subconscious due to these strategies of repression. The marginalia, like the subconscious, exists to be repressed. However, insofar as the advertisements on a webpage are the parts we skip over unconsciously, they are the internet’s subconscious-the thing we skip over while reading the supposed point, the articles. In their strange disjunctions at the margins and in the transitions between headings and content there exists a space that evokes much but sits outside the comfortable spaces of interpretation we use to read content.

William Burroughs introduced the “cut-up”, wherein sentences from various things were cut up into individual pieces to see where they lead. The time of the cut-up has passed. The influx of cultural production calls out for forceful disjunctive breaks into something beyond sense as much as it calls out for measured careful assessment. This influx is much larger than it was, and presents such an escalated fragmentation from the previous media that different methods must be used.

The time has come for the hyper-cutup. The major blogging platforms-Instagram, Tumblr, etc. present curated visions of the world, wild and scattered as the user can manage. In this form the individual pieces of content must either be (1) dissected and reconstituted by the viewer into individual stories or (2) seen in the schizophrenic form. The schizophrenic form of reading gives the sense of the underlying Geist of the period in which we find ourselves ensconced. The hyper-cutup is the product made from the schizophrenic mode of reading.

The schizophrenic form of reading regards the elements of the “page” in the arrangement they have found themselves. It seeks to discover what exists inside the “slips”. The page exists in the schizophrenic reading as a place with a plethora of coordinates as opposed to the standard reading of a centralized focus surrounded by ephemera. Schizophrenic reading does not allow for the category of ephemera. It focuses on the relations within the page and not the distinct objects as individual products. It strives to uncover the messages of the neglected spaces with reckless disregard for whether that revealed is the hidden “truth” or simply the thing itself left indecently naked for its own sake.

When the unseen part of the thing being seen is in its comic-strip succession of images, those will be the focus of the cropping. When the isolation of a single element will better imply what might surround it, that will be the focus of the cropping. The point is to break open the space of meaning into the negative space. The mind must jump this chasm-the space of the blink, the space between two disparate images-frequently with the almost dancerly movement people tend to be capable of when they barely miss running into each other, the little flourish done with the feet when the last or first step of a set of stairs are positioned unevenly. The goal of schizophrenic reading’s renderings is to make the viewer hop, skip, and jump in all sort of unnatural mental motions.

In the 1910s and 20s, Lev Kuleshov famously tested the mechanisms of film montage. In the most famous test, Kuleshov took a simple shot of an actor’s face making no expression and intercut it with pictures of random objects. Audiences claimed various relations between the man and the objects where none had been intended. The takeaway for the filmmaker and psychologist is that the relations between images in the mind are conjured arbitrarily. What the schizophrenic reader must focus on are: What were the patterns of the relations that were imagined? Where do they suggest new patterns that haven’t been thought of? What provides the greatest pivot point from which to jump into grander anemneses?

Insofar as our working environment on the computer is a desktop, the inspiration of trompe l’oeil should be acknowledged.  On the obvious level, insofar as they’re images produced to be confused for the real then ritually declared not to be so. But also in the way many of these paintings consist of an assortment of objects circling around an absent individual, a fragmented portrait evoking the absent party through the placement of their things on a desk or in a cabinet.

The question “How does this piece reflect its invisible subject?” just as frequently as the question “What or who is the subject?

Happy reading folks!