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<eyebeam><blast> Art and the attention economy/Adorno..Beauty's Wounds

Replying to Philippe Codognet,

Thanks for your further clarification of the concepts I was roughly
outlining in a previous post. I do not disagree with anything you say
regarding technical issues, but feel that you have misrepresented what I
wrote. I shall therefore clarify things from my end a little, if only to
salve my own ego. For those not interested in technical arguments,
please pass (and do not parse) over this.

>Basically, the grammatical analyses of sentences written in some
>language, as K-12 kids are doing. That is, syntactic analysis of the
>sentence, which is of course of prime importance in computer languages.
>Computer programming languages (or "artificial" languages as opposed to
>what computational linguists call "natural" language, which is what I 
>currently struggling with) are very simple and can be represented  by
>generative grammars, following and best exemplifying the Chomskian
>revolution. The basic idea of parsing is to start from a linear >sequence
I too have been working for the past few years with generative grammars
and utilising the Chomskian model for some aspects of this (although for
the modelling of "natural" rather than formal languages, and only in so
far as defining strictly syntactic relations - rather than signifying
relations, where I use an entirely different approach). Chomsky did not
invent parsing although he (and especially his younger colleagues at
NYU) have applied it in some intriguing ways. Parsing is not only a
process of grammatical analysis. It can in fact include this, but
fundamentally it is a much simpler thing. It is all about mapping
between patterns. You may define a certain pattern, or the notion of
patterns in general, as grammatic. Essentially a parser simply
translates one thing into another. It might be as complex as a
linguistic phrase or event, but it might be as simple as a more or less
(but not precisely) isomorphic mapping (as in representing
meteorological data as a weather map). The Parser itself is the set of
rules and correlations that allow one structure to be remapped into
another. A parser does not however simply represent one thing with
another (such as an oscilloscope visualising a sound).

>of lexical units (a sentence) and to produce a hierarchical structure
>(a tree) that represents its grammatical structure and determines what
>grammar rules have been used to contruct the sentence. This is not
Not all pattern mappings, nor all grammars, are tree like heirarchies.
Some are quite flat in their structure. HTML, in its simplicity, is an
example of this. Whilst HTML is extremely simple compared to something
like even a formal programming language (HTML is a mark-up language, and
not in itself computable as is a computer language) much less a natural
language it is in itself grammatical. It allows a set of things to be
connected in a simple sequential manner, and for their relations to be
extrapolated. All the same, this does not compromise what I say above,
vis a vis pattern and grammar.

>really  related to Turing machines and what Simon's call "Turings
>concept of a self-modifying system". Encoding/decoding schemes are
>indeed  used in various ways in the theory of computational complexity
>and Turing machine (see for instance "The Universal Turing machine" by
>M. Davis), but this would not be called parsing because there is no
>underlying grammar.
As I say above, parsing is not entirely a grammatical issue. Perhaps, if
you come out of a linguistics background, then you could use this
meaning for the term, but in computing it has a rather more general
meaning, which I outline above. Turing's conceptual system does indeed
parse as there is a process of interpretation involved in the execution
of the elementary program. It is in this process of interpretation,
weeding out commands from data, placing these things in a particular
order, prioritising events, that the parsing is evident. In fact it is
at least as complex in its detail as contemporary HTML, and as it is
computable perhaps even more profoundly grammatic, if by that we are to
imply interpretative.

>Simon is right in saying that parsing is the first thing
>your Web browser load your HTML file, VRML file, javascript code, etc,
>in order to extract the structure of the document and perform the
>appropriate actions. (Note: in fact the first phase is lexical analysis,
>ie aggregating letters into words, and recognizing specific symbols and
The first thing that an HTML parser does is check the tag delimiters (<
and >) to extract the tags from that, and then refer them to a look up
table to work out what to do with them, and what to do with them if they
do not exist in the look up table (a very important part of a browser is
how to ignore what it does not understand, for backward compatability,
and to recover elegantly). Secondly, it then applies these tags to the
data that they in turn delimit. The principle itself is extremely
simple. The handling of related media (non-HTML or non-text) is of
course another question.

>The idea of  what Simon calls "Virtual Computer" did not come with Java.
>It was popularized in the 70's with the Pascal Language and the idea of
>the P-code, an abstract machine language, portable across computers.
I think even before P-Code there was a thing called Z-Specification,
which was essentially a formal desciptive language that could be used to
break a "real-world" problem down into a more structured form prior to
being rendered into a computable language. Issues of parsing are at the
heart of issues of computability.

>OOP was *not* primarly used for developing large-scale software such as
>W95 ... OOP ideas were first proposed in a language called Simula (late
>60's), and generalized in the Artificial Intelligence research community
>in the late 70's and 80's, for instance with the Smalltalk language.
I do not remember saying that OOPs was developed for large scale
software development. I think I said that it was popularised in the
software engineering community through this route. I mentioned Windows,
as everyone knows that software. I could have mentioned more obscure,
earlier software examples, from the late 70's and early 80's, but felt
that nobody would know what I was talking about except those with a
reasonable knowledge of the history of computing.

I agree Smalltalk was the first really significant step in the OOPs
direction, during the 70's. I worked with it myself not long after that,
and found it a very powerful approach. Whilst LISP is not an OOP
language it was also conceptually important in the development of
parsing concepts (as a list managing langauge, predicated on structured
nesting systems) and in the development of Smalltalk and Prolog. Of
course, parsing and OOPs are rather different issues, but like a lot of
things there are connections.

In general there is nothing in your post that I disagree with, expect
that you have taken what I said and applied it in a manner I did not
intend. I did not say, for instance, that Java introduced the "virtual
computer". I think I said that it used the technique. What I actually
said about "virtual computers" you agree with. Perhaps I was unclear in
my writing, and if so I hope the above clarifies things a little.
Perhaps this is all an example of poor parsing algorithms in the human
grey matter.

Re: <eyebeam><blast> Adorno...Beauty's Wounds

Clifford Duffy wrote a long but profoundly beautiful post, regarding
Adorno and Celan (and Heidegger). Having never been a fan of Adorno (but
often amazed by Heidegger, and a fan of Celan) I respond perhaps on a
personal note to his posting.

>The poem by sheer dint of
>repetition had lost some of its intensity and had (through the abuse it
>has been subjected to, and as the biographer of Celan infers, Guilt on
>the part of the generation of teachers and educators 'teaching ' this
>poem to their children) had become a standard' tool of analysis. This is
>terrible language I realize that. But it is what happened. It got to the
>point where school children in Germany used it to analyze metrics
>effectively undermining its meaning and its impact.
I am not sure if this is completely the case. I lived for some years in
Germany, and still commute there often. I have many German friends and
colleagues. Celan is held in the highest respect there, not only as a
reminder of the German collective guilt but as a voice speaking the
"truth" about humanity in general. Many Germans are sick of how Celan is
held up as a warning, but at the same time they hold his work in the
highest esteem. Working as an artist in Germany I came to collaborate
with a German playwrite on producing a video animation (all digital, but
that is not important here). She introduced me to Celan's work (he is
not well known in the Anglo-Saxon world, surprisingly) and in the end we
used one of his poems as the basis for the narrative of the tape (well,
it was not a narrative, more an image poem). The tape was called Voices,
and it was the last tape I made (not because of Celan) but simply
because for me video became inadequate, and anyway it was never my first
medium (the computer was).

Voices from the Nettleway
Come to us on your hands
He who is alone with the lamp
Has only the hand to read from.

This, from memory so it might be slightly wrong, is the opening stanza
of the poem. Later he refers to people being buried in the sky. This is
repeated in the poem that Clifford quotes:

>  Black milk of daybreak we drink you at night
>  we drink you at noon death is a master from Germany
>  we drink you at sundown and in the morning we drink and we drink you
>  death is a master from Germany his eyes are blue
>  he strikes you with leaden bullets his aim is true
>  a man lives in the house your golden hair Margarete
>  he sets his pack on to us he grants us a grave in the air
>  he plays with the serpents and daydreams death is a master from Germany
Sky burial is an obvious reference to the chimneys of Aushwitz. The key
to Celan is not read his work metaphorically, but as visual equivalents
of actual events. He simply describes what he saw as a child and young
person in extremis.

Celan was writing about something that touched his life very deeply. He
went through the camps. He saw his parents and sister die in the camps.
There is no doubt as to the heartfelt nature of his work. But above all
this he was a poet. When reading Celan one of the strongest senses I
have is of his struggle to transcend his own experience, not for his own
sake but for the sake of what he believes in (his art). My feeling is
that this is one of the main reasons that he always continued to write
in German. True, it was his native language (although he was not German,
but came from what was then Romania) and as a poet he didn't want to
compromise himself by working in a language he knew less well, but other
writers have made that shift with success (Nabakov is an excellent
example, as was Koszinsky and also Conrad), so I believe his reasons
were not that simple. He chose to write in German because that meant he
always had to confront himself and his life experiences every time he
sat down to do that which he had to do.

I do not think he was trying to punish himself (it has been suggested
that Celan felt enormous guilt about the deaths of his family, and his
survival). I think his reasons were to constantly remind himself of the
value of his work. That by being as close as possible to the source of
his anguish, by making that source his means, he was in a sense
transcending his experiences. It gave him power over that which had
almost destroyed him, through his work, and thus gave his work a
personal value to him that he could also see outside himself, in how it
was read.

Perhaps, in the end, he lost that battle. There have been many words
written as to why Celan threw himself in the Seine. Who knows why he did
it. It might have been because he failed in the mission I think he set
himself (as I outline it above) but it might not have been. We will
never know. What is important is that he sustained himself, through his
writing, for 30 years after the end of the war. A writing that
constantly brought him close to that which had formed him. 30 years is a
pretty good record, by anyone's standards. That must have taken a lot of
strength, and my feeling is that he aquired the strength through the act
itself. Mind you, many other people did the same, without taking
recourse to art, so we should be careful to not romanticise the artist.

I am not surprised he did not want to be photographed with Heidegger.
For one, Heidegger refused to admit a reality (that Celan was Jewish)
and secondly it might have been bad for Celan's image (as a famous poet
I imagine he was aware of his image as an icon) to be seen with another
icon with a rather different image.

I doubt that Adorno drove Celan to suicide. What I see in Celan's
writings is an extraordinary depth and strength of character. I doubt
that a comment by anybody, even an influential thinker such as Adorno,
would have had that much of an effect on him.

Lets simply enjoy his poetry, recognise where it comes from and what
that means, but above all respect it for its poetic brilliance.


There has been much discussion on Eye-beam about ideas of art, media and
theory. But here we can look at an artist doing what artists do best. No
theorist, engineer or critic could do what Celan did, not because they
are not artists but because they do not work with the "reason" that
Celan (and other artists) do. There has been a general tendency here to
forget why artists make art, which really has bugger all to do with how
they do it.

Simon Biggs
London GB

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