They didn't have video in the 18th century, okay, pal?

Jon Lebkowsky interviewing Bruce Sterling for bOING bOING in 1992 (that's like, late 20th cen. shit!):

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…



Before I begin with the recollection of your new favorite section of Being and Time, number 73, I want to say a few things about Heidegger.

There's books written about this guy, and way more books than about other troubled intellectuals who did bad stuff, because, well... because. Generally, the sides on Heidegger are two. Either he is a Nazi, whose philosophy is inseparable from his political history, or his philosophy is metaphysics, and not political. I'm of the opinion that his philosophy should be considered separately from his political history... and that this philosophy reeks of Fascism.

He's brilliant, sure. I've said before that Being and Time taught me how to write. Every word is so carefully chosen, not only as a signifier but within the delicate structural framework of syntax and semantics that is philosophy. Just look at all the quote marks thrown around words, and the italics. These are not just emphasis, thrown out casually. Each is done with the same purpose as putting a castle on a hill, rather than a valley. There is literally an architecture to Heidegger's prose, and it backs his philosophy across every square, grade, stairway, sloping rooftop, and empty space in his thought. It's some of the best philosophy of the 20th century.

But it's also Fascist. The more lenient philosophers and political thinkers will often let Lenin and other leftists off with a wag of the finger, and a wise word about propaganda, political movements, and state power out of control. But this is not just a guy with a captive audience, and ego-crush on history. The architecture of the thought is Fascist, and it is so close to really good metaphysics that it should scare anyone who still cares about metaphysics.

Of course, writing philosophy is one thing, and kicking Jews out of academia is another thing. Anyone can do either, but it took Heidegger to do both, and seemingly, with the same univocal hand and mind. There is mass Fascism, and there is micro, little-Eichmann Fascism, and then there is intellectual Fascism. Being and Time is the reason I give anyone I hear talking about "authentic" anything a long, hard look. No matter how much Heidegger will argue that there is no moral distinction between authentic and in-authentic being, you can hear the goddamn crazy in his voice. He is lining people up in his head. Just a few sections on, in 75 and 76, when he starts talking about "resoluteness", and "loyalty" to the being of history. And in the famous Rectory Address (which you should really read if you haven't, to know what I'm talking about), when I visualize him actually speaking this, it's uncanny.

The point is, when I implement Heidegger here to make certain points about Time, I am doing so with this in mind, and also, against Heidegger. I have no doubt that he, and many Heidegger scholars, would disagree with the reading I'm about to make, and that is good. It is intended to pull away from his philosophy. His writing is still very well done, and very powerful, and this section made me think about time in certain ways that drew out my conclusions. But I would not say that what I'm about to draw out is Heideggerian. Who knows, however; perhaps, if he lived now in the age of digital reproduction, he would see that authenticity for the sham that it is, and maybe his metaphysics would go in a different direction. Maybe not. This is the strange part about history: that ultimately, it both is what it is, and is what it isn't.

Heidegger's text will be in blog block quote style, and my comments will not. All emphasis is Heidegger's.

Section 73 of Being and Time: "The Vulgar Understanding of History and the Occurence of Dasein."

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.

Time for pCARL Time

Two years ago, frustrated at a nationally known amateur-writer holiday month thing that takes place in November, but whose name will not be spoke, I created my own little writer's holiday.

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.


A Number of Syncretious Posts

So, in the repetition of a little November custom I have (more on that immediately) and in the pre-requisition of thought in preparation for something new (more on that much later), and because I am just the sort of weird guy to do it, I found myself sitting down with my copy of Heidegger's Being and Time last week.

This book is a lot of things. Above all, it's pack to the walls with stuff. After you've first tangled with it, unless you are making your career on its back, it's the sort of book you read a few passages of at a time, and then put it back on the shelf. Luckily it's so packed full, and arranged into relatively small, detailed, topical sections, that it bends itself in this direction.

Due to recent interests of mine, and the items mentioned in the first paragraph, I decided to turn to the sections on temporality. Everybody (everybody?) knows about Dasein, or "there-being", but it's easy to forget that the second half of the title is actually about good old Time, the more interesting half of metaphysics, in my view.

What I'm going to do here, is to re-write section 73 of Being in Time, entitled The Vulgar Understanding of History and the Occurence of Dasein. Interspersed with these paragraphs, I'm going to insert my own commentary, explaining just what I found so interesting in this passage, as relates to some of my favorite ideas about cyber-time, atemporality, history, perception, and materialism.

Why I'm doing this, other than flexing my atrophying philosophical muscles and wasting blank space on the Internet we will never be able to recover, as well as minutes of your life and mine which we will never get back and therefore be that much closer to death, is actually a blog post in itself, which you can read about in full here. Whether this post comes first, or that post comes first, is a little vicissitude we'll leave up to Blogger, because I'm going to post them at exactly the same time. Maybe the other post is the main point--or maybe this one is. Maybe neither are. But, more on these problems... in time.


You know, the planet from the 3rd Star Trek film...

Some content dump today.

Via Book Design Review:

From R. Crumb's Genesis.

Back in my Religious Studies days, the hot topic for people outside of academia to ask me about was Dan Brown's books. I wish this would take its place, but unfortunately, I'm guessing probably not.


Via Booktwo, (whose ideas about the future of publishing I find very compelling):

iPhone Book Concept from stml on Vimeo.

I like this idea much better than the standard ebook reader. This idea uses electronics to make standard books better, not just digital. Digital books have their own inherent value, of course, but this gives a volume a usable, physical depth, in addition to digitality.

Augmented reality is not just pasting a digital window over the world, regardless of what use the information might be that is coming through it. I can sit in front of the computer all day, and experience the digital world. I can take my computer out to my restaurant, coffeeshop, or library too. But this is mobile tech that changes the way I think about tech. Augmenting reality is about changing phenomenal perception mechanics, not just adding to the content. The abundance of cheap digital tech is only the first step. Implementing it is the second.


Tech Cathexis

This post on Quiet Babylon got me thinking this morning. Tim is talking about the bifurcated relationship between objects and their corresponding data, specifically, the separation of data from paper.

True, they are moving more independently of each other than they have, but what I am seeing is that our relationship with paper and the internet is reminding us that the magic of language never existed in the word's physical existence, but in its expression. The object never held any data to begin with, it only reminded us of how to have a particular data experience. Because, even though the Necronomicon is bound in human skin, you still have to read it out loud to bring the beast into this dimension, right?

But really--the history of magic, one of the original industries of signs and symbols, is full of the understanding that it is not just having the spell on an amulet, but the writing act itself, or the reading act later on. The media just acts as a plane of stasis for the meaning: the lines of the figure are the bars of the cage that hold the meaning in one place, ready to be utilized any time one with the skill (reading used to be one of the few material skills of the priest) happens by, and accesses the data.

The flip side is, even though the Internet may be the wildest, most evilest Necronomicon we've ever devised, there still seems to be fixation with the media on which the data is accessed. There is a tactile experience. Not just a "I like paperbacks in my hand" tactile experience, but a "how I interface my data is the magic by which it exists" phenomenological experience. Mobile devices, AR, instantly-updating personalized opt-in feeds, etc. It's magic, and we're fascinated by it.

So maybe you run the perfect paperless office, using the cloud, email, skype, Evernote, whatever, all through the palm of your hand. But I bet you've customized the crap out of it. Because your mobile device is yours, as much as your handwriting is. Why don't couples share mobile phones, when they've shared landlines for years? They share the minutes, the call-5-link-in plan, maybe even the same mp3s and calendar, but everyone's got to have their own handset, their own ringtone, their own background picture. The media may be disposable, but only because it is easily replaceable BY ANOTHER. A wedding or a prop dress is only worn once, but at the moment it was being used, it was irreplaceable. It was perfect. It was the only one, and this was because it was a symbol. The dress doesn't matter, it is what the dress means.

Objects with no meaning drift in and out of our phenomenal realm all the time, and we couldn't care less. Objects with transitory meaning transition out of our attention as soon as their meaning vacates. The data is infinite, in it's own finite space, but what we're seeing is that the object may not even exist at all, outside of its particular instance of phenomenological access. You can take my cellphone, but you better back up my contacts first. This is exactly how we few all objects, psychologically and phenomenologically. You are a human with a soul when I want to feel a spiritual connection to you, an obstacle when you are in my way, and a hot ball of desire when our bodies touch in that special way. Object cathexis, pure and simple. You may fill my heart with passion, but it is really your image which I am filling with my libidinal energy, to inflate you and give you meaning within my own head, whatever the meaning may be.

If my iPhone breaks the day I buy it, I'll mourn the loss. If it dies the day after my two-year contract expires, I'll celebrate the fortuitousness, and then trot down to the iStore. I don't know if we can really, as Tim suggests, change our relationship to object from this mode. If we did not fetishize objects, how could we ever interact with them? If we didn't love the look of our own blogs and twitter feeds as if they were our children, then why would we spend hours a day with them? Hell, if our children didn't act like our own little genetic twitter-feeds, then why would we even love them? I used to preach an anti-TV line. But then I realized how to get people to stop watching TV: stop TVs from spewing the sex, violence, and advertisements that people love so much. Without the meaning, objects cease existing. But until then, you be better off trying to cut off someone's leg than take away their stuff. (And if you like Melanie Klein's part-object theory, you might. Bad breast! Bad!)

I wouldn't say reducing material consumption is a lost cause, though. Meaning flows through objects, and is anything but static. The immediate step after investing oneself in an object, is to put it to work with other objects, directing the flows of meaning, and altering their expression and apprehension. So maybe the change Tim is talking about is possible--but to confront objects meant to die we would have to confront ourselves as objects meant to die. Desire and libidinal investment's power is typically its fullness, not its mortality. So this would take some work. But hey, existentialism is a popular thought object... so maybe in this dark times living towards object death is not such a crazy meaning as it might have been.


Glad to Mutate

Chris Nakashima-Brown has a piece on Strange Horizons called, "Nomadology". I could describe it, but maybe it would be better if I just let you read an exerpt:

"At the Royal Brisbane Country Club, the lower level of the clubhouse has been converted into interrogation facilities. Portions of the men's grill and locker room allowed to realize their immanent potential when the Homeland Guard recaptured the western suburbs and set up a beautifully landscaped gulag here, a mile or two outside the area under the control of the insurrection.

I am strapped to a banquet chair with hard plastic ties. On the wall opposite, the elusive face of Tiger Woods watches over his shoulder as my interrogator attaches the electrodes to my testicles. Is that a Mona Lisa smile the golfer wears, or some darker aspect? The predatory seduction of the child star.

The empty swimming pool through the window is a detention area surrounded by concertina. A thousand putative rebels rounded up at night from the surrounding municipalities shamble in the shallow rain puddles of the deep end, watched by black-uniformed sentries perched atop the lifeguard towers with assault rifles that intermittently glisten in the light of late dusk.

As the current starts to run through me, I hear the battery of lawn sprinklers kick in. The cascading shook-shook of watery machined spurts ejecting over the greener-than-real turf, unexpectedly synchronized with the waves of high-voltage spasms as they seize my corpus in a rictus of new pain."

Actually, I totally can describe it. It kind of reads like a soft-core "Roosevelt After Inauguration", by William Burroughs. This doesn't appear to be quotable online, but you can read an exerpt of it via a Burroughs Reader on Google Books here.

I like Nakashima-Brown's piece. I'm not the biggest fan of the enviable Burroughs; perhaps better to say that for me he has his moments, and then he also does not. Nor am I a really big supporter of topical subject matter in fiction. It's the atemporality thing--I personally stray away from anything that could date a piece of fictional prose. Like a friend of mine mentioned about rap songs and videos, you can tell instantly when they were outdated by the cell phones that cameo in the song. Fiction shouldn't strive to be universal necessarily, but it certainly shouldn't be looking for the thong-covered ass crack niche that is "current".

But "Nomadology" on the other hand, already feels dated, but in a powerful way, not one of obsolesce. It imparts the brittleness of history in the same way as these current events did when we first learned of them. It's all stuff that happened elsewhere to Americans, in another time and place. Maybe even a different world. Sure, we heard a lot about Darfur for a while. But atrocities, in the United States, always happen in the past tense. Facts always come to light after the fact, and then we condemn, and resolve to have it never happen again. Until the next time that breaking news uncovers what someone else was living with for days, weeks, or years, up until only recently.

And I think this is the real connection to Burroughs, not the shock value. "Roosevelt After Inauguration"... what, people were pissed about Roosevelt? Which one? Why? The whole thing sounds like fictional history, like Burroughs delusions of current events only existed in some drug-addled alternative dimension. But the real drug-addled alternative nightmare is real life, and history is the delusion. We know now that Roosevelt was a good president, because it says so in the history books. We know that Abu Grahib was a bad place, because we are told it is not so anymore. The truth of history is defined by it's nonexistence, and its segmentation to a volume of time and space that are divorced from the present. Both Nakashima-Brown and Burroughs bring the past to life in a way that can never die, because it is too bizarre to be killed. It's been zombified, and given chainsaws for hands, and had a clown mask sewn to its skin, and been installed with a 10,000-year rated deux-ex-machina-brand atomic power-cell, making it impervious to the ravishings of age and nearly unkillable. This horror has been inaugurated, and is going for four more years. Or is it four less years? History never actually happened if it's too horrible. We simply deny it by dating it; or does it do this to us? The story doesn't say, but I have a feeling those terrorist parties happen ever weekend, and on Tuesdays for Service Industry Night. You just need a flyer to get in.

The new Internet world is a strange place, and perhaps what is strangest is that things like car bombings still happen all the time. I'm glad someone is willing to document the strangeness in a way that can deliver the magnitude of history, without falling prey to the glossiness of aqueous-coated magazines, or the tiny fascisms of time, space, and plot. This is the job of literature, if ever it had one. As Roosevelt said, and I quote, "I'll make the cocksuckers glad to mutate."