The eminent Bruce Sterling has written a foreword to a new publication of Zamyatin's We. Not the most interesting publishing event of recent memory, perhaps. But, it's a great book, a classic, one might say. I first read it for a course my first-year of college about concepts of freedom and power. I can't remember what the name of the course was, but I very much remember the book. I love how the main character has a changing relationship to the hair on his arms. I think about this all the time, especially when I'm writing about the body.
So, I'd like to see what Mssr. Sterling has to say about the book. He's been named one of the most visionary and interesting SF writers of our day by any number of visionary and interesting sources, so maybe he has something interesting to say as a prelude to the reading experience of We, a very visionary and interesting book, which in its own way is a foreword to the interestingly visionary genre of SF writing.
So it's been decided. I should definitely read this foreword.
But wait a minute: it's not on the Internet.
I know--one wonders if it is a hoax, because a critically-interesting essay by Bruce Sterling is not available on the Internet. How can we be sure the foreword actually exists? Sure, it's mentioned in an Amazon listing, but lots of fake stuff ends up on Amazon. I guess I could go down to the local book store and buy the book. But I already own a copy of the book, it just doesn't have the foreword. I suppose I could upgrade, but $10 is a lot of money to pay just for the foreword. And plus, then I'd have to carry around duplicate pages I don't need, unless I ripped out the foreword pages and glued them to my copy. I could give my old copy to a library or a friend, but it has all my class notes in the margins, which I want to keep. And plus, it's all dog-eared from use.
You know, this reminds me of a similar situation.
The similar situation is my experience with Adobe's Creative Suite, made by perhaps one of the most neurotically anal retentive Intellectual Property controllers in the world. At work, I have the original version of CS. I know, right? Well, it still works, and it cost a damn pretty penny to buy in the first place A WHOLE EPOCHAL SIX YEARS AGO so my employer is not going to upgrade my work station to the current version, which because they are now up to version 4, would mean buying the new software outright. Meanwhile, while I can work fine on my own computer, all the files that customers send me, created with CS versions 2 through 4, are as completely useless to me as if I had no top-of-the-line graphics editing software at all. I am cut out of the graphics editing community, which as anyone in this community will tell you, is tantamount to being able to work with graphics at all. Artists gotta talk to layout, who gotta talk to publishing, who gotta talk to prepress, who gotta talk to press. Me and my poor CS1 are an island on this tempestuous sea.
So what is the connection here? Besides the fact that I'm poor, and totally behind the current wave of publishing?
The connection, my Internet friends, is the nouned adjective of "Canon". Canonicalness. The state of being akin to the canon.
Zamyatin's book, in addition to being a wonderful element of the human literary record, is in the public domain. [CORRECTION: it is NOT in the public domain, because the copyright was renewed in 1954 by the translator! I can't find info for the original Russian copyright status. Translating throws a wrinkle on the wrinkle, so instead of altering my argument, I'm leaving it how it is, and will let you interpret this additional conundrum of translation yourself. The actual status of Zamyatin's book is not my argument.] The copyright is null and void, because it was written so many years ago. There are various, complicated rules for exactly how a book enters the public domain in various territories and jurisdictions, but basically, it was published so long ago that we as a society have determined that the right of the author to sell the book for cold hard cash has lapsed, and now the book belongs to all of us, or more properly, whomever decides to spend the money printing the words onto paper. The Intellectual Property aspect of the work has joined the idealized world of the literary canon, from which aetherous realm it can be channelled by any press-savvy patron of the arts, and delivered into mine hands.
So, if a work is free, and anyone could potentially download it on the Internet, why would a publisher bother reprinting a new edition, especially when another publisher could do the same thing? Well, there are several reasons. One, is because people still like reading paper books, surprisingly enough! Another is that they might remarket the book for new audiences, or for particular markets, say, on the 75th anniversary of the book. Often for anniversaries, they will remake the book as well, in a special edition with new translations, extra critical material, and really sweet new cover designs. In this particular edition we are discussing, Bruce Sterling's foreword is the new part. Oh, the cover is new too. I'm willing to bet that Creative Suite had more than a small part in the cover design.
But the part of the book that is in the public domain does not include this new material. Bruce Sterling no doubt retains the rights to his foreword, no matter what it is published afore. You cannot reprint the edition of the book precisely, because the design is owned by the publisher. Only the text is canonical, and only this text is in the public domain. We, the literary society, does not own the extra features. We only own the nebulous, ideal, (and strangely, valueless) part of the "work", not the actual book itself. The mind belongs to us, but the body is sold by the publisher.
One might say that this same mind-body philosophy dictates Adobe's view of software. We do not own the Creative Suite itself, or any claim to the power of the program that allows such wonderful graphic editing. We own a license to one particular version of the programming, to use this programming up to the limits of its purposeful publishing in this manner. We own the "printed pages", but the aethereal, ideal qualities of the software is Adobe's trade secret.
In software, as far as I know, there is no public domain. First of all, usable software is pretty much less than fifteen years old. Second, there is the thing called "source code", which drastically separates the usable features from the programming that actually makes it work. A metaphor to a book could be a text that you are not allowed to read, but only allowed to listen to someone else read aloud. Of course, back in the day, all text was read aloud, and remembered, so if you heard a story, you could read it and publish it as well. Programs used to be only "source code", too.
But the point isn't simply about establishing a metaphor. The point is about what it means to establish a philosophy of the relations between authors, publishers, and readers.
Some in the software world view Adobe and other software companies' philosophical position as draconian, and untenable. These "some" prefer to set up different philosophies, such as the GNU public license, and other metaphors, like the "free-as-in-beer" philosophy. Some of these variations are probably the closest software gets to the public domain. Not only are you allowed to use the software, and distribute it as is, you can change it, repackage it, and sell it, if you want. Certain licenses mean that the free aspects have to remain free, no matter how you package it. But in the most free varieties, you can do anything you want. It's yours, and you have no responsibility to anyone else in your use. I've heard the programming described like a spoken language--if you hear somebody say something, you can repeat that language however you like, because this is part of being a free individual. You are responsible for your own use of language, and nobody can impose proscriptions on your speech.
Now, with the caveat that I've probably crossed a bunch of categories in the world of open source software licensing with this last paragraph, let me say that a book is still different. Programming language is similar to written language, and yet different. Firstly, from a pure semiotic standpoint, programming language is a written language (mostly English and general Math-speak), with syntactical variations to allow easy logical functions, and then also codified so that it can be parsed into binary, which is the written language a computer understands. So a programming language is not a language per se (ha!), but local dialect, meant to convey a certain sort of meaning in a localized framework, i.e. the programming and parsing relationship between programmer and computer. So, source code, the "body" of a program, is not actually a proprietary language from a semiotic point of view, any more than a computer kernel is the "brain". In fact, both are textual works, written in a unique language that can be expressed by a computer and programmer alike. But without the technology, the computer, in the middle to transcribe and "read aloud" this special text, the book is unusable. When the computer and the user both read the same language at the same time from their individual perspectives, amazing things happen. This sounds a lot like magic for a reason.
But these program books only seem different, because thus far we've only considered the side of books that are written. We've discussed the programming, but not the parsing and program execution. Naturally, the author has a feeling of filial implications for his/her work. "I made this; it belongs to me." Sure, to an extent. But remember, the reader is involved as well. Without the reader, your novel just becomes a very strange, third-person fantasy diary. The technology by which the reader parses the text must be part of this relationship.
So what about the reader? Well, back in the day, the reader had to make a choice. That is, s/he had to choose to buy a book, and stick with that decision. If you wanted to have a bound copy of words all to your very own, you had to pay somebody to put them there, because books didn't grow on paper. Fair enough for free market philosophy. Of course, the publishing industry was willing to work with the consumer on this. Most people didn't have enough money to buy a new hard-back encyclopedia every year. So, we got cheap paperbacks. Dime novels--an entire genre of fiction based around a particular sandbar in the massive river delta of supply/demand curves. Serials. Pulp. There are certain ways people would buy books, and so, wouldn't you know it, people starting making these particular books. Publishers even began to support the ultimate non-consumerist, socialist revolution in literature--free, public lending libraries--because if literacy was universal, they would still sell a hell of a lot of copies, because not everyone could read the same book all the time. Besides, libraries were a good market for hard-bound copies.
You see, books are in their own way a particular local dilect(ic), (hey! who put that parenthetical there? this isn't a marxist concept!) that communicates between the author and the reader. Publishers, out of necessity, have been the mediator of this. They sell the computers, I mean, the technology, I mean, the books. You might have noticed Adobe gets along pretty well with Apple. That's because Adobe wouldn't be able to sell so much graphics editing software, if there weren't shiny new MacBookPro's just itching to run the software. The necessary technology for forming the semiotic/mechanic dialectic between two material points in a productive relationship functions as a part of the whole. The particular iteration of language used in the process is developed by and for the communicative relationship, always already part of the process. It is not so much a mind and a body developed in Cartesian dual-unity, as a Bergsonian echo of duration between phenomenologically linked network nodes. Shifting back and forth, the sand is already going to be forming a river delta...
Sorry, got carried away. Let's get back to today. In the past, books were published in these ways... etc. But what about today? Does technology require me to purchase a new copy of a book I already own, simply because my curiosity and investment in this particular node within the canon of literature pushes me to want to read Bruce Sterling's foreword to a historical proto-SF novel? Is this the current state of reading technology? Am I so obscure in my interests to be a specialist, or a collector, or some other fetishistic anomaly that would cause me to overbuy this particular literary-material language group, like someone buying a supercomputer to analyze the human genotype, or a collector desperately trying to find a working Atari to play the original Asteroids cartridge? Am I a polyglot by need, or simply because I want to be? Why would I dedicate myself towards communicating in the multiple languages of both "New Canonical Release" and "Old, Dog-Eared Text", basically to communicate the same thing?
This is the era of the iterative web app, of atemporal Internet usage, and of crowd-sourced wikis. I think we can do better than having to make a choice between A and B.
We, the expressively speaking/writing/reading culture of humanity, is very quickly getting used to a new way of communicating. Our nodes of communication are proliferating very rapidly. We are now developing new idioms and syntaxes based completely around the ability to transmit idioms and syntaxes quickly and succinctly. Our technology is engendering new technologies. Our programming languages now form carefully considered Graphical-User-Interfaces, which communicate through meta-data messaging services alive on a hyper-fast, always-on protocol networks, these Interfaces competing to write their own logical search algorithms, tracking the latest in spontaneous cultural generation of slang and communicative semiotic gestures, whether acute or obtuse, as long as they are usable enough to carry meaning within them, among as many people as we can still process a continued conversation, using all of these language tools. Yeah, I just described Twitter's Trending Topics. 140 characters never sounded quite so big, did it?
So the canon is growing, and even more so, canonicalness is growing. Comments, crowd-sourced translations, linkbacks, live search, hashtags. Some of this new communication is important, and some of it is not. But how can you tell what's important, without having some way to access it? Maybe Bruce Sterling's foreword is less than 400 words, and is just some glowing name-check to the idea of SF under totalitarianism. Maybe I don't need to read it at all. But how do I know that? I've followed the link, and come to a dead end. Maybe I click through it in under twenty seconds, but if access is denied, how will I ever know? The canon is shooting itself in the foot. Publishers could not, at one point in history, have said, "well, once universal literacy happens, then we'll start thinking about changing our publishing strategy." A growing canon is an ecosystem. It doesn't simply track a curve, or a timeline to decide the public domain. If somebody wants to join the canon, if somebody has something important to say, they must put it with the canon. And the canon, the realm of the literary, where linguistic worth is not so much a nebulous idea as it is a ever-present, living, conversation in mutated dialect, is something that is shared, and networked. It always has been, and always will. All that's changed is that it no longer needs paper. If one piece of technology changes, then the way we communicate in a language previously dependent on that piece of technology changes, even as we continue to use that technology. You can still own a landline, but you better believe you're going to be calling people on cellphones. I'm not looking for an updated ebook here. I want to read Bruce's foreword on pages, in a book, as a preface to Zamyatin's We, in the same edition I read in college, will all my notes still there. Is that an insane request? Maybe a few years ago. But I'm posting this idea on a cumulative public diary stored on a computer I have never seen, with a public network address, written in syndicated meta-language across any number of syntax parsing programs, updateable instantly from any terminal attached to the same global network. Don't you get it? Blogs ARE insane! You try to tell me what technology is insane. The mind/body distinction is not just dissolved, it's scratching it's head in Intellectual Property court, stymied by legitimately elected political parties comprised of people under thirty. The insanity of the real semiotic mechanisms of human communication are not just some wacky internet theory--they actually are the Internet.
I don't expect publishers to understand. Most of them have their only speaking language in the dialectic of profit, which has been a popular idiom for a while now. However, as ubiquitous as the capitalist language is, and however deeply in conversation it may be with our other technological languages of production, consumption, and communication, "the ability to make money off of something is the tautological reason for its existence" is a relatively new work of literature. Capitalism may be a fact, but it isn't the prime cause of our communicative culture. So, while meanwhile, publishers do such things as DELETE EVERY COPY OF 1984 OFF OF ALL KINDLES WORLDWIDE, in another one of those "I-can't-believe-it's-not-a-parable" moments, I have no doubt that I will one day hold an iterative paperback book in my hands. And even if not that precisely, something else that represents ability of the literary canon, which after all, is no more than the vast tide of cultural communicative forces circulating around a collection of particular nodes, to adapt to the speakers of its collection of dialects and idioms. I can't predict the future. Maybe in some years, nobody will even read Zamyatin anymore. Maybe I won't either. But regardless of the subject matter, language will continue to express itself between creators and consumers, finding new ways to do so, and adopting new languages of expression as they become available. Because this is what communication does. The saw "information wants to be free/expensive" is stuck in the capitalist language. What it should say, and what is the most true tautology of them all, because it DEFINES tautology, is that "communications communicate". They don't want anything, but by sheer fact of their existence, they do what they do. Regardless of through what technology you choose to express communication, it will seek to communicate, or it will fizzle, and other communication will take its place. Just try to make the human race shut up. The amazing part is, through all the noise, little by little we slowly start to make more sense.
Meanwhile, my version of CS still has Adobe's stranglehold all over it. Guess we're lucky that there's more than one slick standard for distopian, proto-SF novels out there. Adobe brings you the new cutting edge standard in SF--Jules Verne, version 2375! Now upgrade from version 2374, only $499! Limited time offer!
It reads like a classic SF plot, an amalgam of Herbert, Dick, Asimov, etc, incorporating all the cultural-critique sci-fi into one big recipe, kind of like soggy nachos, or some sort of over-supplemented chex mix. It's just so perfect that it's like a modern political economy action figure, with all the play sets and vehicles. It's the post-modern blogger's upside-down airplane stamp. It's a truth that is a fable that is real that is a bedtime story.
It's perfect tragedy. It's a story so hopeless negative, that we might cling to it like a live saver in the middle of the pacific ocean. It's the sort of story colored by sadness, that wins countless awards, and receives standing ovations and tears of joy from the people who never had to feel such pain outside of a story.
It's history. It's current events. It's the future of people we will never know, and the future of all of us.
All right, let me stop trying to tell you what it is, and just let me tell it to you. And remember, this is not based on a true story, but actually is a true story. (All stories are better with Wikipedia links, right?)
BEHOLD, THE LEGEND OF NAURU.
Once upon a time (a time that is the ever-present now), there was an island in the Pacific called Nauru. It was/is a small island, of only 8 square miles. It was the smallest sovereign island nation. Let me tell you how it came to be that way.
Sometime in the murky ocean of prehistory, Micronesian and Polynesian people inhabited the island. These happy-go-lucky islanders joined the unstoppable march of history in 1798, when British whalers happened upon the island. You may remember whaling as the original failed energy model; ships sailed the seas looking for these large mammalian oil sacks, spiking them, and then bringing them home to light up the industrial revolution. It was the first time we fucked that old problem of energy up good. Now there are hardly any whales, and we've moved on to fucking up other things.
Whaling, coincidentally enough, kind of fucked up the people of Nauru too. The whalers traded the islanders firearms and alcohol for food. Then, with the firearms, and probably both with and without the alcohol, there was a ten-year Tribal War from 1878 to 1888. Imagine a ten-year war on an 8 square mile island. Can you? Well, the population of the island was reduced from 1400 to 900 during that time.
Luckily, kind of, Nauru was annexed by Germany in 1888. Then they got Christianity, which at least was better than ten years of tribal war across 8 square miles of ocean isolated land. Things were pretty much Christian for the next 10-15 years.
Then they had some more bad luck. Phosphate was discovered on the island, which was used to produce explosives and fertilizer back in other places where they had more room to farm and blow up stuff. The phosphate got there because birds had been stopping to expel waste on the island for thousands of years. So these Europeans with land to farm and explode created industrial colonization companies that no doubt scared away most of the birds, first under contract with the Germans from 1906, and then under the British after 1914, when the island was captured by Australia, precipitated by a period of time during which the Europeans were busy blowing stuff up back home at a much faster rate than usual. Imagine the times back then--wars engulfing trenches in flames and poison on the other side of the world, and meanwhile some industrious folks were sailing around the Pacific, capturing little rocks with valuable stuff on it, all the while feeling totally connected to that war somewhere else. They were globalized! Colonialism is crazy!
230 islanders died of influenza in 1921. Fucked by Globalization!
And then, another of these crazy wars happened in and around 1940. The Germans came back and blew up a lot stuff on the island, and then the Japanese came in 1942 and took all the Nauruans away to work for them for free on other islands. The Japanese also brought airplanes, which the Americans promptly came and blew up in 1943, but then left the island alone for the rest of the war because, after all, it was pretty small. The 737 Nauruans who survived their forced business trip came back in 1946 with the British, and everybody tried to get back to work.
In 1968 colonialism was becoming post-colonialism, and Nauru totally became independent. They are lucky they became sovereign when they did, because it is a lot harder now than in 1968. In 1970, the Nauru Phosphate Corporation was formed, so the islanders could strip mine their own island. They spoke mostly English now, though they still have their own native language they continue to use for non-business purposes. Taking over their own island was a good idea, because then they could colonize themselves. In the early 80s Nauru had the highest per capita income in the world.
But there was something about bubbles brewing in the south pacific...
In the mid-80s, it became clear that the island was actually only 8 square miles large, and that the phosphate actually was going to run out. So, they sued the Australians for environmental degradation. After all, they had mined it first, and for way longer, and the environment was, after all, totally fucked. The post-colonizers paid out of court.
But the islanders had to find some other way of making money, because their only resource was gone. Like most other people in the world who have happened into money, they decided to invest. Like most other people in the world who invest, they fucked it up and lost a lot of it.
From a high of 1,300 mil. AUS $ in 1991, the Trust shrank to 138 mil in 2002. They lost their money in the usual ways: bad investment in real estate, bad loans to sports teams, hotels that weren't as profitable as they were supposed to be, and even a musical (YES REALLY A FUCKING MUSICAL) that closed after one night. Their airline, Air Nauru, had its only 737 repossessed in 2005, when other airlines around the world were also fucked. Until 2006, when they got their airplane back, the only way to get to and from the island was by ship. Nauru does not have a seaport, though.
Like true failed investors, they returned to basics. "What," they might have thought, "does Nauru have that other countries don't have?" The answer, it seems, is nothing. "Well, in that case," continues the potential argument, "what does Nauru have that every other country also has?"
The answer, is sovereignty.
When you have honest-to-goodness land, no matter how little, and a seat in the UN, you are somebody. And so, Nauru has managed to get money from those looking to buy a little sovereignty. Starting in the 90s, Nauru opened itself up as a tax haven, by offering passports to foreigners in exchange for a fee. This brought in the usual money laundering crowd, and of course, their money. In those heady days, you could start your own bank for 25K, "no questions asked." In 2001, Nauru agreed to be the "Ellis Island" for immigrants seeking asylum in Australia, (part of the so-called, if you can fucking believe it, the "Pacific Solution" [!!!]) and operated the Nauru Detention Centre in exchange for foreign aid. Between 2002 and 2005, there was a bidding war between Taiwan and China to decide with whom the little island of Nauru would establish diplomatic relations. In 2007, when Australia closed the detention centre, the Nauruan government estimated 10% of the population would be adversely affected by the job losses. Things looked grim. But just recently, reports suggest Nauru has received $50M US for becoming the fourth country to officially recognize the breakaway Georgian region of Abkhazia. It's unclear exactly who paid, but it looks like Sovereignty (TM) is back on the menu.
Sovereignty, which is this smallest of island nations defining trait, and the last lingering effect of colonialism, seems to be the main source of promise for this oval in the ocean. Today, the unemployment rate on Nauru is 90%; and of those 10% who work, 95% are employed by the government. From 1798 until 2009, the story of history has just been one long red carpet for Nauru, leading to one place. Post-colonial countryhood. Nationalism really is the only game in town.
So the moral, dear friends? Well, as tiny Nauru said:
"God bless Nations, Every One!"
I don't mean to make light of Nauru's ongoing troubles. But there is something about the troubles of an isolated nation most people have probably never heard of somehow resonating so perfectly with the troubles of the entire globe. By reading the story of this little world-corner's microcosm, as it blossoms into a full-blown paradigm of post-colonial woe, those who have never been and will no doubt never go to Nauru, and probably never meet anybody from Nauru, nor met anyone who has ever been or ever will go to Nauru, might just feel a tinge of what one might call, "entertainment". As if we were listening to a tragic story. Because what is a fictional story if not a fully believable world that resonates with our own, that we will never be able to experience other than through the story? This island's problems are no less real than any of the other problems of millions of people we will never hear about. And yet, when we hear the story of this island, it is like we are hearing our own problems read back to us. We polluted our natural spaces with violence, disease, and chaos, and exported war to import natural resources, until we couldn't anymore because they were all gone. Then we turned right back around and funded more wars, to keep that economic heart pumping, to keep forcing blood back into our mouth, to get what sustenance we could. We made a few good investments with our ill-gotten gains, and squandered a lot more on bad investments. And lately, it is all looking like it's going to come crashing down. So what do we do? Build a system that works? No, we turn around and sell what's left of our independence for a few more bucks, like a long-gone junkie. Beg, borrow, and steal, as the saying goes.
It's not as if Nationhood ought to mean more; it's not as if it wasn't already a prostituted use of a society's self-worth; it's not as if selling it off for what you can to feed yourself is any less noble than any other last, lacking spasm of economic juice left to dry out in the spinal cord of our species' cultural body.
It's that after all is said and done, and you've cut the last tree and burnt the last oil, Nationhood is all you have left. The golden ideal is the last thing to sell, because it never was real. After you sell the bricks to your house and the land underneath it, all you have left is the ideal: the cross-stitched "God Bless This House" sampler without a wall to hang it on. After you sell your furniture and clothes, and use up your strength and resolve, all you have left is what your body might mean to someone else. We clearly don't care that prostitutes sell sex--we turn around and buy sex by the ton on the TV. If we could buy sex from a vending machine, we fucking would (any day now). What we look down on is being in the position when you don't have anything left to support your body but the body it's built on. You can't make anything; you can't build anything. When you're truly at the bottom, and when you're truly fucked, the only thing left is to take the last iconic symbol of human existence, which for the prostitute is our culture's ideal of fully exchangeable sex, and take it out to the street and sell a fuck for whatever you can get.
Actually, there is one step lower. It's when you take what's left out to sell, and there's nobody out there willing to buy.
“I don’t see other graffiti writers as my competition anymore,” B.N.E. said. “Now I’m going up against the Tommy Hilfigers, Starbucks, Pepsi. You have these billion-dollar companies, and I’ve got to look at their logos every day. Why can’t I put mine up?”
I like to describe Facebook particularly, out of the dearth of social media, as "Acquaintance Spam". Sure, they're people you know--but the feed gives you want more information that you'd ever really want, from people you are socially required to "friend". And my Facebook account (set up ages ago, used primarily as a White Pages) has a funny way of forgetting my email settings, and re-signing me up for notifications. Kind of like AT&T.
So if we are encouraged, socially, to promote ourselves, or to sign up for mailing lists of social advertising, why shouldn't some one desire to be their own brand?
And if you are really designing a brand, you want to do it right. None of this trashy, reality TV, Tia Tequila crap. Start over fresh. Clean lines, contrast. A recognizable, pronounceable acronym. Helvetica Neue. (That's actually his font.) Start local with the street teams, go global, make it viral. In a media culture, you are what you see.
Oh, and hide who you truly are. This is the first step of corporate, non-accountability. If you really want to do guerrila marketing, act like guerrilas. Face masks, omnipresent, anonymous media threats disseminated through your network. Anybody got a problem? Refer them to a spokesperson. Until, of course, Fortune wants an interview.
My only question is this: if this is capitalist marketing nostalgia/mimicking, then where is the surplus value? Where is the profit, derived from the gap between the production cost and the consumption expenditure? If
this is marketing, where/what is the market?
As a good Marxist-Freudian, I'd probably feed you the line about expenditures of the unconscious capital of dreams, and taking surplus off the relations of the production of desire. Yes, yes. We've all read Capitalism and Schizophrenia, to the n-th plateau and back. (You haven't? What are you doing here? Go! Now!)
But maybe this is a flawed iteration of the (now) eternal logic of capitalist production. Maybe, just maybe, there is no profit. Sure, Mssr. BNE gets his own art show, but he could have defaced corporation logos and made a buck without slapping stickers everywhere. What does the brand sell? Who makes what the brand sells? Who buys what the brand sells? Nothing, nobody, and everybody. In the case of Facebook, Facebook scraps off a buck on advertising, just like selling space on the side of a truck, driving nowhere, delivering nothing, using (almost) no fuel. But what was I tempted to buy when I saw that Susie B. from way back when suggested I reconnect with Jimmy H.? I don't know. I was annoyed, but that was it. Was I just... tempted to be... social? Is that a product? Who made it? How do you use it? There are no answers to these questions.
Maybe capitalism has spawned off non-breeding children. These mules of capitalism look like capitalism, act like capitalism, talk like capitalism, but make nothing. Except, that is, more of themselves. Social capital doesn't exist. It is a hand feeding itself. If you're making money off of social capital, you're actually making money off of real capital, while the social just looks on. The mule may pull a load, but what is it as a species? What is it's species-consciousness? Its poch is a bastard; it is a species with an endless generation of one iteration.
Symbols may pull products, but this is only symbols, doing nothing but symboling. All over the place, with each other, replicating, but only ever to the zeroth power, to the infinite extent of n+0. It's an echo, it's a shockwave, it's a whirlpool. It's like trying to map the surface of the ocean. It's the fractalized image of the depth of cultural noise. It's the ambient electro-magnetic sound of the universe, emanating from our own heads and then back again, the simultaneous transmitter and receiver of the static, programming itself into a feedback loop entity of semiotic reality. It's the meaning of $700 billion dollars in the context of the dollar menu.
I'm not about to try and predict the future of capitalism with any certainty (at least not in THIS blog post). But it seems to me pretty obvious that if monetary capitalism was ever to go into decline, if the GDP was ever to flip into steady negatives, and our surplus value was to shrink... (I mean, it can't just go on for ever, can it? Even in a debt-centered, inflationary system?) ...if this ever was to happen, the social, symbolic side of capitalism would continue to grow, as long as there are the machines to do it, that is, the people to consume and produce haphazard, metastasized semiotics. Media may need investment, but the investment in meaning is you and me. It doesn't even need a return to survive. I can keep writing and writing, pasting my name all over the surface of the world, and I have no margins to meet, and no investors to please. You could do the same, and maybe we would read each other's work, or maybe not.
Once the mule is possible, there's no beginning and end. The extent of meaning, it's borders, are negligable if nobody is measuring. There is no compulsion to reproduce and evolve--any re-creation will happen spontaneously, as another instance pops up. There is no linear hierarchy, no temporality, only the fact of existence in expression. Filation becomes mere praxis. There's no piety in praxis. There's only interest or ignorance, and it doesn't matter which. The aesthetics of the rust belt will determine decaying infrastructure's own future use. People will move into libraries, and homes will become archives. All works, all lists, thoughts, and all records will be simultaneously incomplete/complete.
You could ask a mule what it's on earth for... and you could ask a word (or three letters) the same question. Rhetorical questions might as well be the new cold fusion.
So I did this really stupid thing about a year and a half ago. While working as a karaoke DJ (this wasn’t the stupid part, okay?) I decided to copy over the external hard drive of DJ tunes to my own hard drive. I knew it wouldn’t be the best music of course, but I thought, here’s a chance to get all those classic party songs they put on those monthly mainstream DJ compilations, and well, I just never could turn down an opportunity to make my music collection more encyclopedic.
Not only did I severely over-estimate the number of “classic party songs” to pure crap, I also forgot to take into account that the guy whose hard drive it was is one of the most unorganized, non-encyclopedic people I’ve ever met. My music library became clogged with unlabeled, mis-labeled, duplicate tracks, most of which I didn’t want anyway, with their titles written in all caps. To the tune of about 200 gigs.
If you are not acquainted with the true depths of my analytical neurosis, let’s just say that such a poorly organized “library” has been a heavy weight bearing on my database soul for the past year and a half.
But never fear dear reader, because I am working through. Little by little, I am making my way through the genres and deleting, re-categorizing, consolidating, stripping, and re-writing the metadata. I first did “alternative”, “punk/hardcore”, “classical”, and “jazz” so at least I could listen to some music without going crazy. I got rid of the “other” and “uncategorized” categories little by little, and eventually consolidated “hip-hop”, “hip hop/rap”, “gangsta rap”, “rap/hip-hop”, and “hip-hop/R&B”. Last night, I finally finished “pop”. The only ones left are “rock/pop” and “rock”, which are large, but by this time I am being brutal with my deletion, so I hope to finish this week. If I don’t immediately recognize the name, it goes. If they have a single song I don’t like, it goes. If they have a single song with a Christmas theme… Ctrl+A, Del.
Throughout this process, I have had much time to lament how horrible the music player programs are at sorting music. I use iTunes primarily (iPhone user). But for sorting purposes, I also tried Songbird, Media Monkey, Windows Media Player, and Winamp. They differ a little bit, but without buying extra modules, there really isn’t any improvement. The best thing one can do is to sort by a metadata category, and just brute force your way through it. Even so-called “duplicate” finders are pretty weak, with no way to qualify how close or far a supposed duplicate might match its pair. And then, they are remarkably proprietary. iTunes is notorious (at least among the people who discuss music library databases online) for not allowing the language of its library files to be touched. There are some Applescripts out there for making some changes, but amazingly, it is very hard to re-organize a music library any other way than through a browser.
Just so we’re clear, I’m talking about the music library, which is different than the actual mp3s on your hard drive. The library is basically a database file, in some derivative of XML, for organizing the track names, numbers, artwork, actual file locations, and other metadata for display through the player’s browser window. There is a re-write process between the file itself and the database (what iTunes calls “organizing”, or maybe “mediaTunes” now?) that will adjust the actual metadata of the mp3 to cohere with the library database.
Now, I know when I say this, the reason it is so is because so few people have the disposition to categorization that I have, but all the same—the databases available for media organization are abysmal. I don’t really see why—it is easy enough to add XML interpretation into a program. Your word processor can probably do it. But I guess in the effort to make media players as “cleanlined” as possible, (i.e. iPod/iTunes-like) these are abandoned in favor of tools that let the program do all the work.
And I’m not interested in trashing the iTunes mentality, because through it all, they’ve still put together an excellent media player. Sure, it’s a bit heavy for a media player program. And it has a tendency to do things “automatically” that really screw up—like losing user-uploaded artwork trying to auto-download it, and we don’t even need to get into the DRM stuff. But as basically a front end for their music store, it is still pretty damn usable for someone like me, who has only bought maybe two things from the iTunes Store ever.
For example, I love the Smart Playlists. This is the sort of functionality I’m talking about. These are basically database queries, where you can define ranges of the metadata variables like “times played” or “date last played”, and insert randomization and total record quantity. I have several personal “radio stations” made from these tools, and they work great. Of course, there is not as much flexibility as I would like. The same thing goes for the Genius function, which is basically a personalization query, based on variables iTunes doesn’t disclose. Of course, you can’t edit this, and for someone with +100 gigs of mp3s and a computer 5 years old, it kind of gums up the works. But it’s the right idea.
The thing I realized, while deleting 50+ copies of duplicate shit-club mixes of Akon’s three biggest songs of 2007, was that despite the hysteria about intellectual property insinuating that a song is infinitely replicable, and a mere collection of digital bits, we still don’t look at our music files as data. There is an aspect of the commodity in every mp3; it takes on more than what it is. An mp3, to a consumer, is purely the music experience, not the possession of data which can create the music experience. My DJ associate with bad file habits thinks to himself, I want this song in my music collection, and adds it in, with no thought of where it will go. When he wants to play the song, he searches for that particular track, and plays it. There is no browsing, no querying, no organization. The more duplicate tracks he has, with different spellings and different data in different categories, the more likely he’ll find an instance of it when he searches for it in the search bar. The entire analytical process is, Want->Get. It’s the purest sort of production/consumption there is.
This is good for record companies, who try to institute the fear that if they can’t make money, then you won’t have any more mp3s. Actually, with DRM, they’re probably right. But it isn’t true—being able to drag and drop an entire collection of mp3s proves the point. An mp3 is only data. Music has long since past the point of expressive performance, and has entered the realm of digital data, along with many other aspects of our life. Now, expressive performance, the actual production and consumption, live within the differences of binary digits.
So what are you going to do? Well, as any database administrator will tell you—stop doing that! That is, having poor data habits. We know to back up our data, and to be careful where we get our data, but now we need to learn to organize it. A well-kept database is a useful database. Only one item of data per variable, each record separate, no duplicates, proper linking conventions. Clean query programming. It’s just what makes sense.
Of course, no 13 year-old just starting their mp3 collection is going to do this. You just throw ‘em in a file as you download them. So instead of instituting my Universal Rules of Epistemological Fortitude, as I would like to do, I instead look to the media players. I want MS Access, with a media player function. I want write combo boxes for my playlists. I want SQL queries in mp3 queries. I want to add IF/THEN statements to my iPhone syncing. Maybe with some top-down redesign of software, we could start treating our mp3s as what they are—valuable data.
JL: I recall hearing you talk to Steve Jackson about electronic books. You said you thought that they were just throwaways.
BS: Yeah, software is throwaways. Where is your Apple software right now? Where is your IIe software? Do you even know where it is? You know how much money you sank into that shit? What can you do with it now? Zilch. Nothing. People just don’t keep that s tuff the way that they keep books. It’s profoundly disposable. I’m not worried for the future of literacy, though. Some people think that nobody’s going to read books in the future. I think that’s ridiculous. You can learn stuff from books that you can’t get from video, period. For one thing, without books you’re not going to know anything about the past 5,000 years of history. They didn’t have video in the 18th century, okay, pal? And if you want to know anything about the 18th century and what went on i n it, say, why the American republic was started and what people meant when they wrote the constitution, you gotta know about books. You’re not going to get that out of a Hypercard stack, I’m sorry. And if you know that, you’re going to have something ver y valuable…not just culturally and artistically valuable, but practically valuable. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance. If you put a guy with 800 channels of tv next to a guy who knows how to go to a library and do serious research, there’s no ques tion who’s gonna know the skinny…
Our next aim is to find the right position for attacking the primordial question of the essence of history--that is to say, for construing historicality existentially. This position is designated by that which is primordially historical. We shall begin our study, therefore, by characterizing what one has in view in using the expressions 'history' and 'historical' in the ordinary interpretation of Dasein. These expressions get used in several ways.
The most obvious ambiguity of the term 'history' is one that has often been noticed, and there is nothing 'fuzzy' about it. It evinces itself in that this term may mean the 'historical acutality' as well as the possible science of it. We shall provisionally eliminate the signification of 'history' in the sense of a "science of history" (historiology).
Isn't this great?!? Okay, a helpful hint: look at the different implementations of the word "history". There is "history" the noun. There is "historical", the adjective, or the state of something being history. There is also noun of this adjective, "historicality". Then there is "historizing", the verb that is the act of something being made history (more or less), and lastly, there is "historiology", or the science of deciding what all these words mean.
Heidegger is very careful with these words, and the different between the different parts of speech will spell out how he thinks history functions, from a metaphysical and existential standpoint. In the next few paragraphs, we'll see how exactly he wants to separate and unify these terms.
The expression 'history' has various significations with which one has in view neither the science of history nor even history as an Object, by this very entity itself, not necessarily Objectified. Among such significations, that in which this entity is understood as something past, may well be the pre-eminent usage. This signification is evinced in the kind of talk in which we say that something or other "already belongs to history". Here 'past' means "no longer present-at-hand", or even "still present-at-hand indeed, but without having any 'effect' on the 'Present' ". Of course, the historical as that which is past has also the opposite signification, when we say, "One cannot get away from history." Here, by "history", we have in view that which is past, but which nevertheless is still having effects. Howsoever the historical, as that which is past, is understood to be related to it, either positively or privatively, in such a way as to have effects upon it. Thus 'the past' has a remarkable double meaning; the past belongs irretrievably to an earlier time; it belonged to the events of that time; and in spite of that, it can still be present-at-hand 'now'--for instance, the remains of a Greek temple. With the temple, a 'bit of the past' is still 'in the present'.
This is the first of four significations of "history". Something 'past', in that "'the past' has a remarkable double meaning; the past belongs irretrievably to an earlier time; it belonged to the events of that time; and in spite of that, it can still be present-at-hand 'now'.
What we next have in mind with the term "history" is not so much 'the past' in the sense of that which is past, but rather derivation from such a past. Anything that 'has a history' stands in the contect of a becoming. In such becoming, 'development' is sometimes a rise, sometimes a fall. What 'has a history' in this way can, at the same time, 'make' such history. As 'epoch-making', it determines 'a future' 'in the present'. Here "history" signifies a 'context' of events and 'effects', which draws on through 'the past', the 'Present', and the 'future'. On this view, the past has no special priority.
Second signification. History is a becoming, a separation from the basic dimension of time, or to describe it in a familiar but perhaps problematic way, 'how we make our fortune'. To take our place in history, or to write ourselves into the history books, etc. To separate a span of time from other spans of time, and to segment it.
Further, "history" signifies the totality of those entities which change 'in time', and indeed the transformations and vicissitudes of men, of human groupings and their 'cultures', as distinguished from Nature, which likewise operates 'in time'. Here what one has in view is not so much a kind of Being--historizing--as it is that realm of entities which one distinguishes from Nature by having regard for the way in which man's existence is essentially determined by 'spirit' and 'culture', even though in a certain manner Nature too belongs to "history" as thus understood.
Third signification. History is the works of man, as split off from the rest of Nature. Again, post-modernly problematic, sure, but the way we casually refer to history may be problematic. However, I might argue that it is not problematic at all. Differentiating any single thing, be it human, animal, object, or idea, from the rest of the shapeless undifferentiated chaos of the world, is the first step towards representation.
Finally, whatever has been handed down to us is as such held to be 'historical', whether it is something which we know historiologically, or something that has been taken over as self-evidence, with its derivation hidden.
And the last signification means, in my view, history as history, or those past, epochal, cultural products we refer to as history and manipulate and study as such. This is the "meta" signification I guess--the pure history that is the subject of history as science, outside of our memories, products, and opinions.
If we take these four significations together, the upshot is that history is that specific historizing of existent Dasein which comes to pass in time, so that the historizing which is 'past' in our Being-with-one-another, and which at the same time has been 'handed down to us' and is continuingly effective, is regarded as "history" in the sense that gets emphasized.
The four significations are connected in that they relate to man as the 'subject' of events. How is the historizing character of such events to be defined? Is historizing a sequence of processes, an ever-changing emergence and disappearance of events? In what way does this historizing of history belong to Dasein? Is Dasein already factically 'present-at-hand' to begin with, so that on occasion it can get 'into a history'? Does Dasein first become historical by getting intertwined with events and circumstances? Or is the Being of Dasein constituted first of all by historizing, so that anything like circumstances, events, and vicissitudes is ontologically possible only because Dasein is historical in its Being? Why is it that the function of the past gets particularly stressed when the Dasein which historizes 'in time' is characterized 'temporally'?
If you aren't familiar with Being and Time then most of that just shot past you. Here's the gist, about which I can think of several professors who would be shaking their heads sadly if they knew I was writing. Heidegger believes that true being comes from being-there, in connection with various other beings, also being-there. Da-sein, get it? Of course, it's much more complex that simply being-there. There is 'care', which is the state of being with others in a way that one can say one is being-with them but also sort of seperate. And there is also time, which is a dimension in which Dasein must exist, for two there-being beings to be said to be there-being at the same time. Right? So time is necessary, for this true being, this Dasein. Not so far fetched, right?
Okay, so Heidegger is asking if history, of which we have just finished outlining four different ways in which we use the word, is the way that things be-in-time, then what is the relationship between history and these four different significations, and Dasein proper?
Personally, I'm more interested in his discussion of history than Dasein. As I said before, I think when he starts separating authentic being from inauthentic being is where he gets off course. There is no Proper-History, and Pedestrian-History. All of it is simply history, though it may have different facets. Same thing with Being. The thing about Being, is that no matter what you call it, what you dress it up as, or what titles and crowns you give it, it is still just Being. That's why it's so mysterious! Unless you eat psilocybin. Then Being is a whole lot of other things too. As my friend Steve once said, "energy is happen". But let's get back to history. Onward.
If history belongs to Dasein's Being, and this Being is based on temporality, then it would be easy to begin the existential analysis of historicality with those characteristics of the historical which obviously have a temporal meaning. Therefore, by characterizing more precisely the remarkably privileged position of the 'past' in the concept of history, we shall prepare the way for expounding the basic constitution of historicality.
The 'antiquities' preserved in museums (household gear, for exmaple) being to a 'time which is past'; yet they are still present-at-hand in the 'Present'. How far is such equipment historical, when it is not yet past? Is it historical, let us say, only because it has become an object of historiological interest, of antiquarian study or national lore? But such equipment can be a historiological object only because it is in itself somehow historical. We repeat the question; by what right do we call this entity "historical", when it is not yet past? Or do these 'Things' have 'in themselves' 'something past', even though they are still present-at-hand today? Then are these, which are present-at-hand, still what they were? Evidently these "things" have changed. The tools have become fragile and worm-eaten "in the course of time". But yet the specific character of the past that makes them something historical does not lie in this transience that continues even during their objective presence in the museum. But then what is past about the useful thing? What were the "things" that they no longer are today? They are still definite useful things, but out of use. However, if they were still in use, like many heirlooms in the household, would they then not be historical? Whether in use or out of use, they are no longer what they were. What is 'past'? Nothing other than the world within which they were encountered as things at hand belong to a context of useful things and used by heedful Dasein existing-in-the-world. That world is no longer. But what was previously innerworldly in that the world is still objectively present. As useful things belonging to that world, what is now still objectively present can nevertheless belong to the "past". But was does it mean that the world no-longer-is? World is only in the mode of existing Dasein, that is, factically as being-in-the-world.
Blam! My mind is blown! How can we say something is old, if it still exists right in front of our eyes? What is historical about them--because certainly there is something historical about them--is that they existed in a dimension of time that is-no-longer. They are from another epoch, whether it be the neolithic, the dark ages, "the Orient", or the 50s. We call them whatever we want, but still, they are in different rooms of the museum. Furthermore, they are in the museum to begin with. These things belong to our world now, but they also belong to another world then, which is definitely no longer this one.
The historical character of extant antiquities is thus grounded in the "past" of Dasein to whose world that past belongs. According to this, only "past" Dasein would be historical, but not "present" Dasein. However, can Dasein be past at all, if we define "past" as "now no longer objectively present or at hand"? Evidently Dasein can never be past, not because it is imperishable, but because it can essentially never be objectively present. Rather, if it is, it exists. But a Dasein that no longer exists is not past in the ontologically strict sense; it is rather having-been-there. The antiquities still objectively present have a "past" and a character of history because they belong to useful things and originate from a world that has-been--the world of a Dasein that has-been-there. Dasein is what is primarily historical. But does Dasein first become historical by no longer being there? Or is it historical precisely as factically existing? Is Dasein something that has-been only in the sense of having-been-there, or has it been as something making present and futural, that is, in the temporalizing of its temporality?
Here he is checking in with Dasein, by commenting on a difficulty. If the old stuff belonged to a world that is past, then in that world, it must have had Dasein (or the sort reserved for things rather than people) in order for it to really belong to that world. But the problem is, Dasein is characterized by it being now, among those Beings currently existing. So what happened to the old Dasein? Did it evaporate? Or is there as Dasein-shaped hole? Or is it something to do with the nature of Time as a continuum, that fundamentally supports the possibility of all Dasein, and through it, history? (WOW! You guessed number three! Good job! In metaphysics, it's always the most complicated rhetorical question that is the correct one. Either that, or none of them are.)
From this preliminary analysis of the useful things belonging to history that are still objectively present and yet somehow "past", it becomes clear that this kind of being is historical only on the basis of its belonging to the world. But the world has a historical kind of being because it constitutes an ontological determination of Dasein. It may be shown further that when one designates a time as 'the past', the meaning of this is not unequivocal; but 'the past' is manifestly distinct from one's having been, with which we have become acquainted as something constitutive for the ecstatical unity of Dasein's temporality. This, however, only makes the enigma ultimately more acute; why is it that the historical is determined predominantly by the 'past', or, to speak more appropriately, by the character of having-been, when that character is one that temporalizes itself equiprimordially with the Present and the future?
We contend that what is primarily historical is Dasein. That which is secondarily historical, however, is what we encounter within-the-world--not only equipment ready-to-hand, in the widest sense, but also the environing Nature as 'the very soil of history.' Entities other than Dasein which are historical by reason of belonging to the world, are what we call 'world-historical'. It can be shown that the ordinary conception of 'world-history' arises precisely from our orientation to what is thus secondarily historical. World-historical entities do not first get their historical character, let us say, by reason of an historiological Objectification; they get it rather as those entities which they are in themselves when they are encountered within-the-world.
If 'the past' is part of Dasein, how is it separate from our own individual pasts, and furthermore, separate from our sense of time in general? Well, let Heidegger introduce you to primary historicality, which is Dasein, and secondary historicality, which is the network of the world outside or our Being. Our Being relates to the world via Dasein, and objects relate to the history imbued to the world via Dasein, what he calls "the world-history".
This is where I step in. I am fine with a phenomenological reduction of history--things that are historical only are because we perceive them as such. But the only reason Heidegger is interested in creating a first/second order historicality, is so he can continue to privilege Dasein, the authentic Being, as something metaphysically more awesome than other things. After all, the 'volk's' sense of history is more important than, say, the history of production relations. Right? Because who cares about the factory, when OUR HISTORY AS SUBJECTIVE ACTORS is under discussion! Drill, baby, drill!
But really, look how he justifies it, as we continue:
In analyzing the historical character of equipment which is still present-at-hand, we have not only been led back to Dasein as that which is primarily historical; but at the same time we have been made to doubt whether the termporal characterization of the historical in general may be oriented primarily to the Being-in-time of anything present-at-hand. Entities do not become 'more historical' by being moved off into a past which is always farther and farther away, so that the oldest of them would be the most authentically historical. On the other hand, if the 'temporal' distance from "now and today" is of no primary constitutive significance for the historicality of entities that are authentically historical, this is not because these entities are not 'in time' and are timeless, but because they exist temporally in so primordial a manner that nothing present-at-hand 'in time', whether passing away or still coming along, could ever--by its ontological essence--be temporal in such a way.
He's so close, it kills me. He's right in saying that things do not become "more historical" by being older according to the timeline of years. And he's also right by saying that if "historicity" is not a factor of distance across this dimension, then temporal distance (say, number of years) in itself is "of no primary constitutive significance for the historicality of entities", and not because these things are somehow divorced from time, and timeless, beyond measure. They can be measured, and this measurement doesn't matter to their historicity.
But he thinks this proves that it is a sort of history that is therefore separate from our "present-at-hand 'in time' ": our present sense of the difference between past and future. It's a tautology--because Heidegger believes that current, present Being is fundamentally distinct from all historical, past senses of Being, then the difference between our appreciation of time-as-presence must be fundamentally different from our appreciation of time-as-history.
I would argue precisely the opposite. Our only sense of time is of time-as-history. Many philosophers have argued that the cone of perception extends only into the past. Of course, it is infuriating to us that we cannot "remember now", because as soon as we do, it is past. But think about it--what he is describing about history is precisely how we think about time. Our sense of history is not concerned with the difference in years. But our sense of history is certainly no separate from our subjective sense of "time passing". So doesn't this lead us to believe that our sense of history, and our sense of temporality are unified?
The trouble, it seems to me, is our necessary layering of measurement onto the segments of time. Remember the second signification of history? After the first, that past is both past and present, there is the second, that any particular past, is a derivation from such a past-present. A number line extends to infinity in both directions, but the minute you grab any segment of that number line, you must identify some sort of units to clarify which portion of the line, in relation to all other portions. To say segment 1,2 is different than 3,4 is easy; but to say segment 1,2 is different than -infinity,infinity is much more difficult. Hence, we develop the term 'zero', the point from which we extend in either direction towards infinity. But remember, 'zero' is also an infinity point. "Now" is just as non-existant as "zero past" and "zero future". Sure, we think about the past backing its way up to Now, just as the future extents outward from now. But this is simply a factor of time's passage, which in dimensional geometry, isn't actually "going" anywhere. Imagine backing up in time from a point in 10,000 BC all the way to Zero Past, or the point at which the dimension of time expires. Just as much of a pain in the brain as trying to "remember now", isn't it?
But this is the way we think about time. You could call it the Dasein in Time, or the fundamental condition of Time (or history, if you want to try this argument from the Marxist angle), or the authentic, primary history. It really doesn't matter what you call it. Time still is what it is, and is what it isn't. What we do know is that we have a sensation of time, and a sensation of history as time 'that is past'. If we reduce time and history to our phenomenological perception of it, this is what we are stuck with. We have the line of time, we have the expression of various segments along it, and we have the head-pounding problem of when we try to invent zeros for this line, in order to measure it correctly.
I contend, what is primarily historical, is this problem. We will always hurt our heads thinking about it, but we won't stop trying to think about these zeros, either.
But what is very interesting is what these meditations have uncovered about the way we think about time, which we ignored, maybe because our heads hurt so much, or just out of habit, trying to keep all the measurements straight. When we look at them, they only ensnare us further into the problem, but in ways that are very interesting, and provoke thought about new aspects of the problem.
Heidegger's four significations of history are true. We think about the past in terms of a unified past and present. We separate the particular past from our 'sense of the past'. We use history to define our world, and our place in the world. And most interestingly, we take up the material of our history, and study it as history, to try to know more about ourselves.
And all of this changes, the more work in historiology we do. The more 'raw data' of history we accumulate, and the more we categorize it and sift it, bringing it into our 'now', the more our history changes. What would Heidegger have thought of the Internet? No authentic Being out there, to be sure. But an awful lot of other stuff. Lots of being-in-general. Lots of history, both being studied, created, and lost. The Internet is a giant web of presence, but a presence that is impossible to measure, and is never infinite. It changes our perception of temporality, but nevertheless extends our temporality, allowing us to look at particular moments and segments in repetition, completely skip other moments, and interact with history at a speed we find comfortable, whether fast or slow. The Internet is a master tool of historiology. It is a SF nightmare scientific tool, but the tool is set to work on our perception of the world, and can never be unplugged, and we cannot look outside of its scopes anymore. The Internet began as a repository for data, but now it is the tool for producing the data, distributing the data, and the tool for producing the tools, and the relations of production. The Internet is the world-history, both as a repository thereof, as creator, and conduit, and content. You can unplug from the computer, but you cannot unplug from world-history. There is no timelessness outside of cyber-time. There is history that signifies in a seperate segment from cyber-time, but because cyber-time is part of our phenomenal perception of temporality, and part of our history, there can be no temporality existing separately, and no alternate history. There is only one history--a tangled web of then-and-now, ever changing, re-expressing itself, and constantly being experienced.
Really, its not just the Internet. Any tool, any object in the world changes our interpretation of it, and our Being in the world. When you pick up a hammer, your hand is changed. It can bash in nails. It can bash in heads. It is still your body doing these things, but it is doing it as part of being-with-hammer. The Internet is the same, only we are all connected to the same Internet. We are being-with-Internet. It's not all the same Internet, but none of it is different. It is all part of the same world. It is only so apparent because it is instrumental in our perception of history, which as you remember, is how we visualize our selves in the world. We all have always been connected via the ecosystem, and via our species, and via the distributed genetic logic of our interior chemical structures. ACGT. All of our chemistries speak the same language, and are in the same temporality. But because of consciousness, through some peculiar mechanism, we are driven to understand the span of time and space by segmentation, by splitting it into categories, and egos, and nows and thens, lines and dots, and all the rest. Now, with these consciousnesses interfacing with the same machine, we are starting to bring these individual, conscious-ego world-histories back together, re-writing and re-reading our historiological understanding of our own histories, and creating the world-history anew as we go. We are ditching some of the more quantitatively temporal segmentation strategies as we go. Minutes of the day.... time zones... yesterday versus the day before... what does it matter? All that matters is what history continues to be, and continues to show us about itself. And, what it still refuses to allow us to comprehend, by way of its own structure.
It will be said that these deliberations have been rather petty. No one denies that at bottom human Dasein is the primary 'subject' of history; and the ordinary conception of history, which we have cited, says so plainly enough. But with the thesis that 'Dasein is historical', one has in view not just the ontical fact that in man we are presented with a more or less important 'atom' in the workings of world-history, and that we remains the plaything of circumstances and events. This thesis raises the problem: to what extent and on the basis of what ontological conditions, does historicality belong, as an essential constitutive state, to the subjectivity of the 'historical' subject?
The easy way out would be to say that in this post-property Internet dimension, nothing belongs to anyone any more. Not even history; not even historicality. Historiology, the province of entrepreneurial metaphysicians, is now open territory to anyone. But, this is not really the answer to the question. Historicality does belong to someone; it has to, if it is something distinctly historical. You can't have a phenomenological reduction without someone to observe the phenomena. But I think what has changed is, what it means to 'belong'. We are not really atoms in the structure of world-history, nor amino acids, nor even electrons. We are fully conscious and individual animals, capable of independent worldly life and thought, that never the less choose to plug in and share with each other, creating new dimensions of time, space, and being where there were not before, and leaving old ones behind in the recesses and gutters of our collective memory. And that, when you start thinking about it, is really much more complicated.
I know--creating your own holidays is one of the first signs, isn't it?
Basically, despite being a jerk and a general curmudgeon, I think that setting an arbitrary word count as a month long writing exercise is probably the least effective practice in writing. And the holiday aspect of it is equally silly. Writing a little over 1600 words a day is really not that hard. If you need help to write that much in a sitting, you might want to find a hobby that you actually like.
But I think there could be something in this annual, force-yourself-to-write in a new and different way (just if a "new and different way" is 1600 words in a sitting, then, well... you get it). So I invented pCARL: the psuedo-Creative Annual Ritual for Literature. As originally discussed, part of the charm is the name sounding like a marginal sex act. You can read more about it's traumatic birth here, in the FAQ.
The deal is this: in the month of November, the pCARLer will REWRITE a piece of literature they know, love, admire, hate, or otherwise have casually met. The only rule is that it must have originally been written by someone else.
The prototype is to rewrite the piece directly, word for word. With pen, woodblocks, keyboard, whatever. Of course, pCARL is not the sort of holiday that would get all up in your business by telling you exactly what to do. No! That is for other holidays with much less awesome acronyms. So, if you feel like getting creative with your rewrite process, for example, adding some of the things you think the author meant to say the first time around, but must have gotten accidently cut in the editing, go right ahead. The only rule is that the piece must have been written by someone other than yourself, and when you are done, will be somehow posts and shared, with the original author's name still given credit, albeit with the sub-title, "rewritten by ____."
It may sound stupid, and maybe it is. But once you have taken the trouble to actually rewrite something, you see the benefit. Also, maybe the benefit of doing it only once a year. Even to place an original text next to the keyboard, and bend your head to think about the letters of each word as they flow through your fingers, is good exercise. It's like reciting a Shakespearian monologue. The cadance of the text, and the shape of its symbols pass through your mind like a train through the countryside.
Sure, you can write pages of "original" prose. And you can reread the classics a lot faster than you can rewrite them, and gain more from the reading experience. But rewriting a text is like stepping into history; it's not going back into history, but like lifting the fibers of your historical view of the world and literature, and stepping inside, to see how things look from another vantage point.
The first year I did the first chapter of Melville's The Confidence Man. I don't remember what I did last year, but I think I did end up doing something (other than writing about it on the Internet). This year I re-wrote a section from Heidegger's Being and Time, into which I inserted my own comments about history, time, and the internet, and which I published as a post in conjunction with this one.
Part of the reason I did them together, is because the conclusions I drew from the passage, are relevant to pCARL itself. Clearly, this holiday does not avail itself to the stricter interpretations of what Intellectual Property is. But additionally, it casts the literary canon in a different light than simply paying for a book, and putting it on the shelf. It brings work into the present, into a state of literary being. The passage of Heidegger was written in 1926, but now it was also written in 2009. Maybe you prefer the '26 version better. It certainly will continue to be the "true" version that will be republished, and the next time I want to read the section in question, I will probably reach for the '26 as well. But nevertheless, because I am posting it on the Internet, the 2009 version exists, and will continue to exist. It was here, part of the present, and will remain so, though most-likely ignored. I'm sure I don't have to tell you how today we only know of many great historical works because they were mentioned in other commentary--all original copies being lost. I don't claim this will happen with Being and Time, but still, it proves a strange, dopplegangered existential quality for such referential work.
The original English translation of Being and Time was completed and published in the 60s. My physical copy is the Stambaugh re-translation, completed in the 90s. Translation is a form of re-writing, of course, and definitely suited to pCARL's mission. When I typed the text, I used the older translation, most of which is available via Google Books. Not all of it, however. Because of Google Books' innane "preview" deal, there was one "unviewable" page from the section in question. This renders the work nearly useless, in my opinion. Thanks, for nothing Google. But, since it is easier to retype something on the screen than a book in one's lap, I used the portion that was available, and then filled in the missing page from the Stambaugh translation. Among other fun pCARL experience, this laid differences in the translation bare. I was able to pick up the missing page easy enough (without using the standardized page numbers of the original edition), but I actually had some trouble figuring out where the missing page ended, because the wording was so different. Key phrases are translated differently throughout the text. The newer translation prints "Dasein" as "Da-sein", to better show the composite nature of the term. This gave me some clues, but when the sentences are completely transposed in the clause order, it gets difficult to tell what sentences are "equivalent". I left the language true to each version, but I did write all "dasein's" without the hyphen, just to keep it the same.
So have I violated copyright, or not? I used the publicly available, fair-use Google Books preview of one edition, and then supplemented it with a fair-use portion of another edition, with a totally different copyright. Or have I violated the copyright of the Heidegger estate? I don't think so, because I think 1927, the date of the first edition, renders it public domain. But this doesn't qualify further translations, with their own copyright. But then, isn't all of what I did fair use? I inserted more commentary than original text. Or maybe nobody cares. This is the Internet, after all.
Despite the hard-to-understand measurements of Intellectual Property, what I did was to create a segment point at which this text re-enters world-history. This text is canonical; it is historical. I have reinvigorated it's being in the present, by making it something both old and new. I have made it signify according to all four of Heidegger's listed significations of history, which I discuss in the post. Is it more historical now, or less? I'm not sure.
Regardless, pCARL will press onward, ever pushing to boundaries of what my mind and the Internet will tolerate, or completely ignore.