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Re: <eyebeam><blast> Human=Computer

Ben Williams wrote:

>Firstly, the idea of the computer as a language machine is compelling,
>but also somewhat vague I think (in the same sense that describing
>painting or cinema as a language is vague). The question is more what
>kind of a language, and then how it relates/differs from, for example,
>the written phonetic alphabet.

I think it is possible to distinguish between the computer as a language
machine and the language like natures of painting, cinema or other
artforms. The difference is explicated in Turings first theoretical work
on automated and recursive systems (systems that can modify themselves,
depending on what they contain, thus changing the code that defines
future modification, and on and on). To my knowledge, the computer is
the first fully autotmated system of this type developed by humans.
Clearly there are other systems with similar properties (perhaps all
open and evolving systems have similar properties) but it is in its
automatic characteristics that the computer is different.

Automation does not, in itself, change anything essential, but in
producing an automated system certain understandings had to be achieved
by those doing it (and all those who now choose to utilise these
characteristics) regarding the dynamics of meaning producing systems. In
this sense the computer is an idea, a paradigm concerning the nature of
"writing", rather than a thing.

When I use to teach one of the first lessons I would give on digital art
was to get the students to build a computer that used no hardware of any
kind, and no electricity. The essence of the exercise was for the
students to explore self-referential rule based systems, simply by using
their own bodies and voices. It was also an exercise in group dynamics.
Basically, each student would become a component in a simple recursive
and self-determining system, defined by their own, but related, rule
base. Then, by simply following the rules, a certain (usually unknown,
and completely ridiculous) result would be achieved. I wanted them to
understand that the computer is not a monitor or a keyboard and mouse,
nor a black box full of chips, nor anything that requires electricity,
nor even a machine or artifact of any kind, but rather an idea about
making something that can then make itself, and that it does that
through rule systems that are essentially linguistic in nature.

It was always a lot of fun, as a first class.

I think from the above you can see what I am trying to say regarding
computers, and how as a linguistic medium and system they are distinct
from other types of media or artforms. At the same time though, on
another level, I agree with you entirely that there is no difference. It
is at this level of agreement that I think we see the universality of
the basic concepts behind systems of communication and mnemonics
(systems that in their very structure encode, translate and store
information). Language itself works in this manner. In this sense I have
always seen language as what many people would call our collective
sub-concious, and it is on this idea that Foucault's own ideas -
language as Panopticon, for example - are so compelling. But rather than
call it a collective subconcious (which to me seems a very fuzzy idea
indeed) I would prefer to think of it as a collective (or cultural)
system of recording and transfering information pertaining to the nature
of the system itself and the culture concerned.

One thing that I find interesting is how in a Post-Colonial world, where
there are large proportions of societies that are diasporic in nature
and heterogeneity leads to cultural fragmentation and the development of
diverse sub-cultures, the idea of language as a shared and determing
resource starts to break up. In this sense we do not share language, in
that language is what divides us, and the more similar (and yet
profoundly different) linguistic structures appear then the more divided
we are.

>area lately is by the German critic Friedrich Kittler, a collection of
>whose essays have been recently translated into English. Without going
At last Kittler is translated into English!! I attempted to struggle
through his work in German in the late 80's, as at the time I was doing
a lot of work in Germany and all the German speaking artists and critics
were raving about his work and ideas. He has certainly been influential
in Germany, along with Rosser and Zielinski. Do you know the publisher,
title and ISBN of the translated book(s) of Kittler's? I would be keen
to get hold of a copy.

>into too much detail: Kittler analyzes Freudian and Lacanian
>psychoanalytic theory in terms of the media they embody--for instance,
>Lacan's Real, Symbolic, and Imaginary are read as embodying the
>technologies of phonograph, computer, and cinema respectively. Freud's
Actually, this idea comes mostly from Zielinsky, who wrote his earliest
texts (in the 70's) on just this subject using just this approach. But I
think it is Kittler that fully develops these ideas.

>mystic writing pad is itself a form of erasable screen with infinite
>memory.This kind of analysis addresses the ways by which media of all
This "writing" pad seems to relate to what I was saying above about
computers. Have you also read Frances Yates' "The Art of Memory"? In
this book she explores the history and culture of mnemonics, and the
manner in which various cultures have encoded information in their
language and artifacts. Although written in the 60's it is a precursor
to a lot of 90's theory, but without the Post-Modern fetishes.

>sorts find their way into supposedly objective philosophy and science as 
>conceptual models, or metaphors, whose concrete origins are quickly 
>forgotten. Having read far too many books proclaiming, in their
>different ways, that media are returning us to some "primitive" form of
>consciousness, beyond rational language, Western philosophy/metaphysics,
>linear narrative, Enlightenment perspective (pick what's relevant to
>your chosen artform) at this point I'd welcome just about any more
>historically nuanced accounts.
Read the Yates I mention above. It has recently been reprinted by
Pimlico press, ISBN 0-7126-5545-X

Anyway, I could engage with other aspects of what you have written as
well, but (lucky me) I am off to Portugal for a couple of weeks to
explore dolmens and spring flowers, and enjoy an early Spring, with no
eMail available. I will log all Eye-Beam messages though, and look
forward to a lot of reading on my return.

Bon Voyage.

Simon Biggs
London GB

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