Resistance in the Flesh

I have been re-reading Lebbeus Woods' blog post about resistance, while listening to Aphex Twin's Selected Ambient Works Vol II. Not that these things are really related, but this is sort of the mode I am in, recounted to you in Socio-Net status format. Though I must say "Cliffs" is perhaps the most beautiful piece of ambient music I've ever heard.

Lebbeus Woods' blog is a rare one, and a favorite of mine. I don't always understand what he is talking about, but more often then not I get something to think about. I don't rush to his blog in my RSS reader, scanning through it quickly the way I do some of the mammoth feeds out there. I wait until I have some time to sit and read, more like a traditional magazine article.

The post "Architecture and Resistance", is one of the best things I've read in a while. He begins with a short thought or two on the concept of resistance in architecture, and then proceeds into a "resistance checklist", which is stellar.

Normally I very much dislike such reductions of so-called wisdom into tiny, petit fours bites. This is a very popular way to gain "wisdom", whether it be page-a-day calendars, quotes, or self-identifying
distillations of knowledge into warm, brothy nothingness (the ubiquitous Chicken Soup method), which seems to equate knowledge and wisdom with anecdotes so tepidly coddling as to lull the reader in a sense of warm, christian/humanist self-satisfaction that couldn't be shattered with a steel pole.

This resistance checklist is none of that, instead bringing with it more of the black humor aesthetic of situationist graffiti. It is a checklist that is not meant to be checked off, as if accumulating any number of these items and claiming them as one's own would somehow create a positive status or identity. Some are unlikely, others impossible, and some are probably contradictory. Some are minor, and others would be so life changing in actuality that they seem to be at least somewhat tongue-in-cheek, if not actually ironic.

Of course, this comes off not as a light garnish of critical thinking, but as a fire hose. I suppose something could be said about the teaching of contrariness, obfuscation, and paradox as a key theme of resistance itself, and certain items on the checklist would carry this idea. But let's not get too situationist here--there may indeed be love underneath the cobblestones, but this doesn't necessarily make tearing up the Paradise Parking Lot the embodiment of resistive action.

I tend to think of these as something a bit more sublime than hurling newspaper boxes through Starbucks windows. More like small prayers, or syllables of mantras, that must be said ten thousand times to actually mean anything. And I don't mean to head east as an opposition to the street poetry of late capitalism--we could take as model the paradigm of what we think we resist, instead of the nihilistic rejection of all that symbolizes the hate we hate. So, rather than any sutra, how about the Book of Revelations? How about that text, cited again and again as rationale for neglecting the environment, bombing the ____, or the inherent violence and war of the world? What knowledge lies here?

And yet its not my intention to get into a theological discussion here (though often my roads lead there), but to say more simply--sometimes you have to read the part about the dragon about a hundred times before you really get it. Is it the devil? Is it the federal government? Who knows. More likely than not, the things we are totally convinced are completely symbolic are actually anything but.

Which gets me to a particular point on the checklist, which stood out to me like letters in flame.

There are plenty of great ones, which I like either because I whole-heartly agree, or find them especially challenging. But this one:

"Resist any idea that contains the word interface."

spoke to me exceptionally loudly. Maybe it was simply because I was researching Flash-based eBooks that day, and compiling notes for a presentation to someone about them, and I had written the word "interface" about 76 times in five pages. Or maybe because I've never really liked the word at all. But it got me thinking. Firstly, the sentence says not to resist any ideas about an interface, but to resist ideas that contain the word "interface". This is an interesting distinction. Maybe we could say any idea that needs to explain "where the amazing interface be at" is clearly a bad idea, because an interface should be immediately apparent, if it is to be an interface. It's like labeling the go button with a sign saying "go button". Idiotic, and essentializing of function over form.

But then, we might note the obvious paradox--this checklist item does in fact contain the word, "interface". Is this all a joke? As simple as: "do not read this sentence"? Or are we to take some ludic bit of knowledge away from this; maybe we just "missing the interface for the words" as the saying goes? Maybe we are studying things too deeply.

I think something different--or at least, this is the knowledge I got out of it. I think it is a warning to resist all interfaces. Resist any idea that contains the word "interface", is a admonition to resist ideas seeming to require interfacing. In other words, resist any sorts of logical wranglings that might lead one into definitional arguments about semantics, or stoic discussions of paradoxes starring heroes and animals.

The sort of philosophy that cares about hypothetical, universalizable cases is one that tries to interface to life, by way of allegory, metaphor, and analogy. In any given Socratic dialogue we learn an awful lot about what "wise men" do versus "foolish men", or what gods are like, but very little about actual life. Yes, this is the birth of the canon of philosophy, but it's thousands of years old! I love allegory and analogy as much as the next writer, but please. You can only read Plato so many times.

These sorts of ideas--of logic, of comparison, and of Venn diagram dynamics--all require an interface to work them. They are compatible with circuitous diagrams, and universal, "all or nothing" statements because this sort of thinking, of the abstract and the general, is the interface by which we can access certain types of knowledge. This does not mean that it is false knowledge, or somehow faulty. But it is hardly all there is, even though it is often taken to be such, and therefore, we resist it.

The same thing is true for any interface. Sure, we can operate any number of gadgets via an interface, but as soon as it breaks down, we kick it in the chassis or slam it against the counter. Beyond all of the interfaces ever designed, there is the maximum interface: the systems flowing through the hands and the feet, the eyes, the mouth, the ears, the skin, the tongue, the penis, the vagina. Wired directly to the brain. So maximally interfaced, there is no way to get around it, no way to hack over and above, but only through--the Flesh Circuit--already bent forever, humming vibrations of feedback without
a power source.

You may not be down for elan vital, but still, it exists and persists. Maybe you're not a mystic, but you can feel the drone of the universe. Even dead flesh still has a taste. Even lifeless substrate registers a feel. There is no incompatible format. There is only incomprehensible data. And it isn't just background noise, either. The unconscious is the substance of ones and zeroes, the basic data set, and the presence of circuit, broken or not. Resistance is feeling, the potential of blocked flow.

So you can keep the interface--the easy to understand, the attractive, well-designed, user-ready, plug-and-play, all-inclusive. The Chicken Soup for the Consomme-Soul. The Designer Revolution for Party People. Better yet, is the inner, constant resistance--the idea that cannot be contained with an interface.

Selected Ambient Works Vol. II doesn't even have song titles. How's
that for interface!

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