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Art Columbia Essays Fiction Interstitial Uncategorized

White Whaling circa 2011… (Assignment for Prof. Shelley Jackson)

Whaling Implements made by Blacksmiths - from Capelinks.com

[You are encouraged to listen to the NUMBER STATION soundtrack below while you read this, for atmospherics]

Call me McGirk.

Call me McGirk. Some years ago — never mind how long precisely — having little or no money in my purse, and nothing in particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and read the wordy part of the world…

My sincere apologies to Melville.

After a semester traversing a series of literary seas within seas, prying at the “unsayable, the unspeakable, the unknowable, the unattainable” silences within a series of difficult texts, the greatest white whale of all [writing] has yet to feel our [critical] harpoons. That most unknown known remains – the reader. The mysterious diaphane, the field thrown up between the author, text, and reader. What on earth goes through a reader’s mind while he or she takes in a string of words? It is our good fortune that a suite of cutting edge automated ‘readers’ are coming closer and closer to providing an answer.

'Cultural Analytics' from Berkeley

As you navigate the Internet, the Internet – which is to say certain entities using the Internet – navigate you. This isn’t a benign process. They want to learn as much about you as possible so that they can snag your attention; diverting your time into loops of advertisements and possibly even push you through a point-of-sale and taking your money directly. They do this by gleaning information about you. Where you go, what you search for, what type of computer you are using…. Websites leave small tracking codes on your computer called cookies, and each of these transmits data back to homebase. By visiting this site I have already captured your IP address, and can tell which keywords you used to find this site, what type of computer you used, where you are located and a couple of other data-points.

The data I’ve collected is a crude simulacrum of you; an inscription of your desires for an instant (or obligations, as is the case for my only guaranteed reader ). These simulacra have a purpose. Electronic texts can be altered according to the whims of their readers. All writers crave attention. Electronic texts, through their intelligent operators, are aware of their readers, and can quickly respond to being read. By understanding the wants of their readers, operators can better shape content to serve readers’ needs. There are even advanced analytics packages that will automatically generate ‘content’ for users in response to what they ‘perceive’ readers as wanting (in fact this is a multi-billion dollar a year business, or it was until Google tweaked its search results to waterdown these serar)
However, as is the case with traditional pen and ink reader-response, our analytics are incomplete – and at times totally flawed.

ROI on Keywords

Keywords (also known as index terms) are among the most interesting and valuable traces left by users. Most users most often first come across a site by searching for a specific term on a search engine. With this site, jamesmcgirk.com, about 53% of users are directed by a search engine (33% are referred by another site, and the rest come directly). My users mostly come looking for “James McGirk,” “mfa personal statement example,” “maine coon,” and a plethora of business and espionage related-terms I listed to attract interesting visitors. (More on this below) An entire industry has sprung up to interpret these keywords, and another to optimize content online so it can be better read by search engines (this is called Search Engine Optimization). Using search terms as a crude model for a visitor’s mind, weird simulacra have been created. Content is generated automatically at the discretion of computer programs. There are even companies assigning stories to human beings based on the suggestions of algorithims. When you hear the term content farms, that’s what’s going on.

Solaris

As in the simulacra in Stanislaw Lem‘s Solaris, these replications of desire are incomplete. It would take an infinite amount of data (and a correspondingly infinite amount of time to collect this data) to accurately model a human being’s wants and desires. But machines are getting closer and closer.

Content can be thought of as a diversion, as a product designed to leach time from the consumer. A moment of communication between man and machine. A relationship. Ideally this will be a symbiotic relationship – a user will discover an article that is pertinent to his or her interests or finds a link to a product or service that somehow fits into his or her personal narrative. But this is rare. Mostly these diversions are a nuisance, at times completely parasitical. To the point where some even launch malware to seize control of your terminal and force your attention on it. But most are more subtle than that. Perhaps the most sophisticated technique is gamification; in effect snarling a user in addictive gameplay, the way casinos try to dazzle their consumers until they’re too numb to do anything other than play.

Breton eyeball slice

Literary forms are beginning to emerge in response to automated reading systems, searches, and other more prosaic but no less important technological developments such as archives and instant data retrieval. Online, an age somewhat akin to the pamphlet-strewn amateurism of the 18th Century America is in bloom. The most exotic forms can be found on the Internet’s wild fringe, in its anonymous and pseudo-anonymous chat sites. Here there is a frantic economy of monikers, memes and spoofed identities. In online forums such as the all-text Autoadmit.com and the semi-anonymous Somethingawful users compete to create the catchiest, most innovative forms – most often an evolution of an earlier idea, name or other fragment of an idea. The best innovators become famous within their tiny little spheres. Other fora (or is it forums?) are completely anonymous – the most famous of these being the notorious 4chan/b ‘Random’ board, [NOTE: extremely non-safe for work] – where the only recognition earned is the sheer longevity of a creation. The best of memes were once charted on the Encyclopedia Dramatica. (This is a mirror site, the original was recently closed down after pressure from the Australian government, among other more mundane reasons.) But now there is no reason at all to create but sheer artisitc thrill. Although ‘board lore’ has developed a concept somewhat akin to ‘duende‘ – a dark, nihlistic form of amusement known as ‘lulz.’

Trading

The next evolution of the online literary form – which one hopes will eventually lead to the hypertext equivalent of MOBY DICK, which became a sort of bellweather of American long-format literary fiction – could well come from manipulating these mysterious semantic mechanicals. They offer the opportunity to make writing dangerous again. With the proper keywords, information is taken up into automatic readers belonging to some very interesting entities, to the point where there can be real world consequences. As a way of experimenting with this form I have created a series of posts with keywords that I imagine might appeal to some of the more peculiar gleaners out trolling for information. Among these posts are lists of oil rigs, information about espionage, a fake consulting company specializing in complex shipping orders in the Arabian Ocean (mostly deleted), electronic warfare, and other ‘edible’ keywords. The visitors I’ve received include: hedge funds, multinational banking concerns, the department of defense, oil companies, environmental organizations, the Pakistani government, the Kuwaiti government, the Iranian government, the Russian government, an unacknowledged US military facility, a few mysterious hits from ‘Cabin John, Maryland’ (a park across the river from CIA), Mi5, Mi6, but sadly I have yet to influence any. To my knowledge, all that I’ve managed to do is intensify the feeling that I’m being watched when I type online.

Categories
Fiction Uncategorized

Escape!

Taken from the Guardian

There should be a sheet suspended from the washing line in front of the safe house: the white all-clear is missing. Probable the sign has been neglected, an enemy would try a false flag to lure you in, but the position could be watched. NEMESIS’ absence has been noted by now, at most you had a five-minute lead before they realized he would never return from the bathroom; no doubt sentinels are prowling the city. Drive on past. One block. Anonymous townhomes pressed together. Scattered lights. Parked cars. No heads. A cobbler. No sign of activity. Two blocks. Shopping corridor. Closed for the night. Empty. Pull in. Circle the lot. Attorney. Dentist. High prole boutique. Optics. Framer. Photo developer. Oriental cuisine, still open for business. Exit left. Double back abruptly, tires shriek out. Quick J-turn. Accelerate hard. Decelerate. Observe. No visible tail. Follow a lonely access road toward airport. Occasional articulated lorries rush past, connected to their cargos with coiled plastics. No passenger cars. No motorbikes. No one follows. Behind, NEMESIS lights another cigarette. Neon red on the horizon. Pull into a motor inn. Courtyard access. En suite bathrooms. Color television. Two motorway exits. Ample parking. Airport shuttle. Check in. Continental breakfast option ticked. Non-smoking rooms, two, to muddle the trail. Nemesis waits in the car. No one must see him. You must act as if they will. Return. Remove contents of ashtray. Unscrew Corps Diplomatiqué plates. Scatter ashes in hotel room. Find estate wagon owned by family. The American make with the inflatable balls, plush animal dolls, and sand pails will suffice. Switch plates. Catch an early commuter bus back to the capital. Stop at train station. Not the Grand Station, but an exurban one, on the outskirts, when the train has already filled. Standing room only. NEMESIS coxed along, tired and complaining, promised a dollop of jam dissolved in his tea (i.e. the way it ought to be.) Ride north to the border. Step off into a seaside town flocked with bargain hunters from the north. A docked fishing trawler waits. Diesel. Liberian registry. Suspicious. Singapore or Grenada is better. Ten thousand dollars currency pressed into a soot-blackened palm. Included in the price: a single knit sweater and two merchant marine certificates. You expect NEMESIS to comment, but he remains mute, gripping the handrail and gazing out at the rolling grey water.

Categories
Columbia Fiction

Dominion (draft #1)

Rishikesh

It was horrid and bright to open his eyes. Better to stay enshrouded in ruddy darkness. But other signals were… penetrating too. His gullet came unfastened, pulsing and melting, and a sour bulge of liquid rose and – oh fuck, he sat up too late – popped and disgorged into his cupped hands. This liquid inch he cradled between his palms, it had weight and mass, and the gluey but slippery consistency of watered cornstarch. He considered, as the sweet smell of ketones, sickly and artificial rose, how much like an offering it was with its grains of rice and bilious yellow tint (plus he was bent on his knees in the sand). That smell quickly became a shriek. A nostril twitched. Revulsion clenched him, and he flung it in the pit.

Oh… oh, ugh… please don’t do that. Please. That’s where we eat.

A female and Western someone said that, one of the other rafters, a voice he recognized, the bossy freckled one who paid for her own holiday. He looked at her. She looked at him. She scorched wood in the fire pit and turned it. Sparks twisted loose and rocketed upwards.

Food glued to fingertips felt repulsive. He plunged them in the damp grains before him and yanked them out again. Red and grey filled crannies, nooks and wrinkles, and fell in tiny streams. Shining mica particles tumbled in the threads and winked in the light. Most stayed stuck. Even as he rubbed. A hollow in the sand remained without crumbling.

His freckled interlocutor, with her wide fleshy cheeks, dark eyes, prim little frown and dismayed expression pointed to his hands:

You are disgusting. Why wouldn’t you rinse them… in the river?

He considered the grit on his hands, and the bloated carcass swirling down the rapids.

Their rafting guide lifted his head. He held a pan he was grinding silt against to clean the grease from.

Plus… plus… here is this point, sahib: you may wash your sins away in this river. May I walk you to this bank?

No, no, I can manage. Thank you.

He lifted himself from the sand. Grey poured from his smoke-steeped clothes and tumbled from his poisoned flesh. His insides sloshed and gurgled. He surveyed his domain. Where he lay was a mark. Where he thrashed and rolled there were flat scuffs in the wind-blown undulations, and a long smear leading from where he crawled to the pit.

How easily he could chart his progress. But on the periphery were signs he could not decipher so easily. As fresh as his they were – maybe fresher and certainly crisper – a wobbling trail that circled him twice then led back up the tall slope and disappeared into the woodsy tangle of trees and spiny brush.

He dropped to his knees to look. Ebb tides of sludge sluiced through him and collided.

You gonna barf again? Do it away from the communal area – please.

He did not respond. There was an interior pad about the size and shape of his balled fist – but the ground was punched in far deeper than a boot-print. Radiating out on one side were four nubs as long but much more substantial than a thumb. They were tracks, animal tracks from an animal at least as large as he. He felt someone walk up beside him.

The guide crouched. He studied the tracks. He beckoned a closer look with one hand.

These are small for tiger.

With the other he pressed a palm beside the print to steady himself and measure.

But perfect for leopard.

*

The circuit around the sleeping American was not so far off the leopard’s usual route. Each evening’s prowl had its tripartite purpose: To find food and squirt urine jets – that is to re-inscribe the boundaries of his domain where they abutted against the other leopards’ (and tigers’, and feral cats’ – though he thought of these more as nuisances than peers, indeed the dank smell of their urine and mere thought of their scat piles made his whiskers crumple in disgust) – and if he felt like risking internecine conflict, he might to nudge his boundaries forward and theirs backwards with his jets. But his final task was the one he took the most pleasure in. On his midnight prowls, before he left his own mark he took a moment to sniff deeply and consider the boundary scents of others; to steep in the pheromone tags of his brethren and sift through them hunting for signals, for must, for weakness, for the continued survival of his peppery brood – three cubs, two males, one female, each marking their own little worlds now – whom he knew only from a fierce rut from a splendid ruddy bitch who padded into his domain one lonely afternoon. She was long gone.

(Some would have say there was a fourth purpose too – to patrol his area for danger – but leopards are afraid of nothing.)

He came away with his domain freshly mapped each night. And as he slept through the day, and his body twitched and his whiskers wiggled with dreams, he roamed his lands again and again. Gliding above them sometimes or sometimes plunging in, weaving in and out, plotting escape routes, points of ambush, lines of sight, lines of communication; learning his scoop of land so intuitively it became a part of him, the shape corresponding roughly to the hollow hemisphere of his paw as he spread it swipe.

Some contours within were always the same and always would be the same, unless the river shifted, which it not yet had. The spines of rock that pleased him would stay the same, as would the tributaries feeding the great river below that he could lap from, the general shape of the gorge and the slope down to the riverbank. Those never changed. Other elements were fluid. The sand lining the river. Depth of cover. Colonies of rats. Mud puddles filled with biting fleas, scorches left by lightning strikes. The trails to and from the water sources, romped by every creature – these always existed, but shifted, at the whim of the mass of them. He charted the monkey blinds, those foul tempered, foul tasting things who posted lines of sentinels who screamed alerts as they saw him, and pelted him with shit if he came to close. There were caches of food, kills he hoisted and hid the better to let them linger in their juices before he sank his fangs inside; the meat risked spoiling the longer it hung but the risk of a writhing mouthful of maggots thrilled him too.

But his maps were not just functional. They had their flourishes too. Flat patches of dirt he enjoyed rolling around in as a freshly whelped cub. The shaded copse his mate first prowled into and howled for his seed. The scent marks of ancient leopards he kept alive with his own squirted palimpsests. And finally he plotted the strange encroachments of man. The terrifying black strip they laid that smelled faintly of sun-baked bowel. The swift screaming things that traversed it were somehow associated with them, leaving clouds of flatulence and peculiar flotsam and jetsam in the gullies running along side.

Their most recent arrival was less dramatic yet somehow more beguilingly sinister.

As the great river receded and the grey sands were revealed beneath, a single smoke belching beast would one day lumber down the gentlest part of the slope. Like an elephant it was averse to steepness. (This message was encoded for posterity.) Four men clambered out and built flimsy nests and dug a great burrow they filled with fire.

That night as he made his rounds he chanced upon a mark he never sampled before. A faint trace left on unusual oblong dome that felt as if it had been ground down by man many years before. The scent was barely alive. He placed his nostril close. Some weren’t worth preserving otherwise his nightly rounds would take an eternity. But this one addressed man. In a whisper of soft reeks it spoke of a wounded was stranded on a sandbank during one monsoon. All he had to eat were corpses. And the only corpses that washed ashore were men. They were astringent, sour metallic, and rank all at once. Yet he developed a taste eventually. And when the waters receded he slaughtered hundreds. Then disappeared, leaving his dominion empty.

As the fire died down, he slunk down across the cool, dense, sand. The air was moist and vivid, stirred by the churning of the waters. The nests billowed in the breeze. How easily he could rip one apart but as he approached the perimeter of one his paw snagged on a thin line. Like a massive cobweb. He shrunk back from it, afraid a sentinel would screech the line would stick to his fur but it only twanged. Still he strayed well away. He approached a strange oblong that wasn’t made of stone. He dragged his muzzle against it, taking in a whiff dried river minerals and then a choking sent that made his fur bristle. He was about to leave and return to his route when he found a lone sleeper by the dying fire.

*

Water dried and left crusts of minerals on his skin. His fingers tasted of salt. The sun stung his goose-puckered flesh. The last of the rapids. The river spread out before them and became languorous and slow. Ahead of him in the raft the freckled one took off her helmet. And she turned to him and as she did a beam of light fortuitously ignited her hair, which roared a more crimson shade of copper and as she leaned forward, her blocky lifejacket pulled away from her, revealing a plunging chasm of cleavage, sunburned pink and freckle dusted flesh that disintegrated into shadowed scoops of pure white. She held her helmet in her hands. The straps hung off. Frayed and grayed with sweat. She leaned off the boat and dragged the helmet in the river. She pulled it out again and held it before him. An inch of water drained through the circles of polystyrene – masses made up of millions of bubbles – that pulled and twisted the curled copper hairs she had left behind.

Hold this, will you? She said.

She scooped a long cord of damp red hair over her shoulder revealing a long length of speckled neck. He caught her smell as she took it from him again. Milk and salt and musk, it drew him closer. His muscles ached from rowing but bathed him in a dopey soup of soothing relief.

But for the rush of current against the rubber sidewalls the raft was silent.

A squat stone marker sailed past. The Interlocutor pointed.

Say. Now what is that? She said.

That is one commemoration to the Great White Hunter. The guide said. He pulled his mouth back and shuddered with laughter, revealing blazing enamel and bubblegum pink gum that charred to well-done burger on its periphery. For this man! Panar leopard – he ate 400 men. Very cunning cats! Monsters! They lift the roof, drop in, scoop up baby and snatch her in his jaws!

Why do you say that?

He was very nearly eaten.

Were you very really nearly eaten?

He nodded. Circled and sniffed, he said.

She placed a freckled finger on his wrist. It pleased him.

Categories
Columbia Exurbs Fiction Uncategorized

RIDGEWOOD ECSTATIC

A brown flicker by the lights. A nest gnawed through worn acoustic paneling. One, then two birds alight on twin fluorescent bars suspended far above Food Dimensions’ supermarket floor. Below, swaying, pitching, rolling and yawing, tile gullies gone grey-yellow from grubby footfalls and spills, extend, extend!; between cliff walls of chipped enamel bulge edible geometries of blue, yellow, faun and beige.

The birds curl thread claws over the edge, dip, fall, plunge and propel themselves upward, two dark darts swoop among the cans, seize soft grubs of masticated grain, grip and tug pieces from under suffocating see-through skin; and leave behind feathers and traces of beak.

An underworld undergirds this marketplace, or rather, under grids it, radiating aisles outward. From sufficient altitude, from an avian perspective, one would hardly see much difference. A triangle bisected and striated by lines of black asphalt instead of a brittle white metal that is something close but far cheaper than steel. And closer still the asphalt flows and gleams at intervals with pressed steel shells, egg shells, cradling combusting liquids in a cast-iron crucible. To the automobile and its driver – when in the condition of being a driver – the city is rendered as necropolis, a tomb world of clipped decisions, direction, distances and long-dead Dutchmen who have moldered past the point of matter, and all that remains are names. Onderdonk.

And it goes on and on in this vein…

Categories
Fiction

Tiered Rejection Responses

I often see discussion about whether or not there really are tiered rejections at literary magazines. There are! Since I received a rejection letter this morning, I thought I’d share what I know as an editor. For ours, we use a simple content management system that allows us to collect and respond to submissions. It’s called Submissions Manager. I do not know how easy it is to customize the replies, but in our case we have four levels of rejection. Agni and One-Story also seem to use Submissions Manager (looks like One Story’s webmaster actually developed the software.). If a literary magazine’s submission page is plain with a small login in the top lefthand corner, and a registration page in the center; you are interfacing with (a/the/Mr./Ms?) Submissions Manager.

After I download and read a story and decide what I think about it, I have to switch the story’s status. I have four choices if I want to reject it, otherwise I can ‘accept’ or ‘withdraw’ it. (I don’t know what the accept button does!)

A standard rejection looks like this (ours is worded slightly differently):

Dear James McGirk:

Thank you for sending “The Godling of Greater Kailash.” Your work received careful consideration here.

We’ve decided this manuscript isn’t right for us, but we wish you luck placing it elsewhere.

Kind regards,

The Editors

That was from AGNI. I use this letter for almost all the submissions I read. Doesn’t mean anything really, just that I can’t use the story. Could mean it’s terrible — although most stories I get aren’t, and seem like they’ve been workshopped. Usually just means that the text didn’t grab me. More taste anything else. But if there is some horrid flaw, i.e. if the story is missing an arc, or it’s written in a different language I will send a standard rejection. But it really is almost always taste. (Or the aforementioned missing arc – and this can be emotional, or language based– the text just has to do something to me.)

The next stage is a second tier ‘nice’ rejection. I send more second-tier rejections than I should, the big difference being that we encourage these people to submit again (we are enormously backed up, so wanting to see anything more should be taken as a compliment). If I send one of these it means I enjoyed what I read. The story might not be perfect, but something about it was exciting. Here’s an example one from One-Story I received this morning (or at least I think it’s a 2nd tier rejection — these damn things stir up such conflicting emotions):

Dear James McGirk:

Thank you for sending us “The Godling of Greater Kailash”. We really enjoyed this piece, but we didn’t feel it was right for One Story.

We hope that you will continue to send us your work.

Sincerely,

The Editors of One Story

Now, I have neither sent out nor received a “very nice” third-tier rejection. These really are the same as the second-tier rejections, only more encouraging still… I don’t really know why I would send one of these instead of a “personal” 4th level or encouraging 2nd. Here is ours:

Thank you for sending us your work.

Unfortunately this particular manuscript was not the right fit for Columbia: A Journal of Literature and Art, but we were very impressed by your writing. We hope that you will feel encouraged by this short note and send us something else.

We look forward to reading more.

Sincerely,

The Editors of Columbia: A Journal of Literature and Art

I guess if we actually did want to see more, I could send one of these. But I would still rather send a fourth-tier rejection. These are just plain empty fields. I have used this feature to personally respond while rejecting a story. I basically said the story in question was great but it was too long, and I would love to see a shorter story. I published the second story he sent me.

Dear XXX

XXXXXX

Sincerely,

XXXXXX

And so there you have it… the four tiers of rejection….

Categories
Essays Uncategorized

Spies as Suicide Bombers

Graham Greene, an Mi6 correspondent during his days in Lagos, wrote that “espionage today is really a branch of psychological warfare. The main objective is to sow mistrust between allies in the enemy’s camp… The real value of the two scientists [Fuchs and Nunn May] to the Soviet was not from their scientific information but from their capture, and the breakdown in Anglo-American relations that followed. A spy allowed to continue his work without interference is far less dangerous than the spy who is caught.” (1968) Which brings us to “Anne Chapman” et al.

From Xinhua

Given their limited access, it seems likely that the spies apprehended were running agents and transmitting material – what has come to light seems of little value, and was unlikely to have been classified at all: airport diagrams, discussions of ground penetrating small yield nuclear weapons – so why, after ten years of investigation, bother busting them at all? Besides the personal snaps of the winsome staff of Future Map Advisory Services LLC., the salient feature of the news coverage surrounding the spies has been their gross incompetence. Their clumsy craft (invisible inks, dead drops, ludicrous code words etc.), their pathetic approaches – it hardly seems worth ten years of investigation. A few observers (see editorials) suggested it was a carefully timed ploy to disrupt strategic arms limitation talks ahead of G20, or perhaps force Russia’s hand on some Iran-related matter.

Something isn’t adding up. If the spies’ antics were really as amateurish as they say, why wait ten years to catch them? The United States is downplaying the threat of Russian espionage, has agreed to withhold something from the press as leverage against Russia, or has simply learned to emphasize the incompetence as a way to mitigate the discomforting thought that there might be vast networks of foreign spies and saboteurs at work in the United States and there’s little our special policemen can do about it.

Categories
Interstitial

Spam, Theatre-based Counter-electronics

Create your own schematic

Israeli boarders would have been well advised to shield the transmissions of their targets. In 2007, against Syria, they easily scrambled signals, “injected” false information into networks – and they should have at least blocked cell and sat and ship-to-shore communications from their flotilla. Next time they will.

My own ECM battle is going well from a technological standpoint, even the most sophisticated spam emails are being stopped. These are semantically smart messages, designed to stoke an author’s ego “great site” etc. Lately they have also begun mirroring successful messages. Am beginning to develop Stockholm syndrome.

Categories
Art Essays Exurbs Gotham Interstitial

Communities and Contempt

Parasitic Computing
A compelling takeaway I didn’t include in my post about Richard Nash‘s speech was his emphasis on how writers crave community. This was his lead into a demand-based publishing model, and had a queasy resonance for me. I applied to graduate school for this reason — I wanted to find other writers and gather a group of people together whom I could snipe and gossip about writing with. But this was an error. I don’t think it’s what I nor anyone else needs as an “artist.”

Community is a distraction, one concealing the hierarchies of a dying industry and glomming up the cozy entry-level inefficiencies that once made it possible to make a living as a freelance writer or hack journalist. Community is comfortable, but ultimately inimical to individual achievement. In the nebulous non-being between becoming amateur and professional one is encouraged to wallow in the same ideas as one’s peers, and a close-knit community becomes a self-reinforcing echo chamber of status, etc. The only people accelerated and empowered by such an environment are sociopaths — at least at the level I’m at.

The game changes once you’ve built something worth protecting, which is why [visual] artist colonies (grouped studios, shared leases etc.) and arguably the upper-tiers of the art school swindle function so well — they generate income and reduce inefficiencies — but there is no artistic benefit. And, until every individual component of an artistic community is capable of producing income, community is just another parasite drooping off the withering flanks of postpostindustrial cultural production.

Categories
Columbia

Robert Coover

A History of the Future of Narrative: Robert Coover from Scott Rettberg on Vimeo.

Robert Coover came to speak with us last week. He’s a writer’s writer for sure, someone who burrows deep into text and wiggles around with it. He lectured on electronic writing, an obscure discipline he’s become an unlikely patron saint of. Unlikely in that he’s fairly old (he hit his stride in the 1960s) and that he’s a writer rather than a computer programmer or other operator. [Print is now a subset of digital literature, says Coover, since all but the print itself is produced digitally.] Coover thinks multimedia and hypertext have yet to mature as media, and made an analogy to American literature. Right now we are in the equivalent of the pre-Revolutionary America, adrift in a new medium, and just like Ben Franklin and Thomas Paine we are all amateurs cranking out our little pamphlets. It took a hundred and fifty years of American publishing to create Moby Dick, and since no one in our program had grown up completely saturated in digital media, we were doomed to flounder in the new medium.

Coover's CAVE system

We also got to look at Coover’s CAVE writing work — this is an immersive three-dimensional writing program that lets you have complete control over every aspect of the experience. CAVE writing is really just [x,y,z] coordinates tagged with XML, but it’s a powerful ensemble effect; albeit one beyond the limits of a single human being to create a work (such as novel or symphony) bigger than themselves.