AL&P: Beyond the P{age,ale}?

2007-04-23 00:00

In an attempt to further understand Stuhr, in his latest chapter "From the Art of Surfaces to Control Societies and Beyond: Stoicim, Postmodernism, and Pan-Machinism" (which is actually skipping a chapter in the book, blame my professors, not me.) I have decided to appropriate this journal to my own ends. Stuhr references a billion (not quite literally) things in this chapter, and I can't follow all of the references. There's some URL's he puts in the text, music he expects the audience to listen to, and a whole set-up to get the 'full experience' of the chapter. While there is something to be said for multi-media experiences, and their value æsthetically in addition to philosophically, scientifically, and whatever else to which you attribute the utility of experience, I don't trust Stuhr's writing to convey his notions clearly and accurately, even in part. How can I possibly have confidence in the evocative, invocation, and perhaps even revocation present in this much more nontraditional paradigm of communication?

My answer? Respond in kind. If Stuhr wants to call up philosophers I've not heard of, make allusions to cultural artefacts I've not experienced, or appeal to æsthetics I don't share, then I will push my own æsthetics, cultural artefacts and experience into philosophy, just see where they go. According to Stuhr, this is what he's trying to get us to do anyway. By our listening to him to do it, are we not coming to unique experience? Decide for yourself.

"People who know exactly what they want have always frightened me, and Lise had known what she wanted for a long time, and wanted nothing else at all. …and I'd seen enough strangers' dreams, …, to know that most people's inner monsters ware foolish things, ludicrous in the calm light of one's own consciousness.

"[the scene is] like you're on a motorcycle at midnight, no lights but somehow you don't need them, blasting out along a cliff-high stretch of coast highways, so fast that you hang there in a cone of silence, the bike's thunder lost behind you. Everything, lost behind you….It's just a blink… but it's one of the thousand things you remember, go back to, incorporate into your own vocabulary of feelings. … Freedom and death, right there, right there, a razor's edge, forever.

"What I got was the big-daddy version of that, raw rush, the king hell killer uncut real thing, exploding eight ways from Sunday into a void that stank of poverty and lovelessness and obscurity.

"And that was Lise's ambition, that rush, seen from the inside."

—From The Winter Market by William Gibson

The above evokes unspeakable emotion, internal drive, the heart of experience. Can we capture that, in our pan-machinistic worldview? Can we, as in this story, record, process, duplicate, and mass-produce compelling experience, if even not with such a sophisticated technology as portrayed in the story? I would say, given our technology and its capabilities today, we already, and will continue to produce ever more compelling, even 'real,' experience. The machine of experience will unite and fragment simultaneously; compelling experience is not simple, easy, or straightforward, but a unity of compelling experience will create a discourse as varied and complex as the experience itself. Should we press onwards towards mass-produced, commercial experience as a way to reëstablish democractic unity? Perhaps. I think there is another way. (I just don't know what.)

"[I might have found a way to] trust in whatever it is that she's since become, or had built in her image, a program that pretends to be Lise to the extent that it believes it's her. I could have believed …, that she was so truly past it, …, that nothing mattered to her except the hour of her departure. That she threw away that poor sad body with a cry of release, free of the bonds of polycarbon and hated flesh. But seeing her there, …, I knew, once and for all, that no human motive is ever entirely pure. Even Lise, … Was human in a way I hated myself for admitting."
—From The Winter Market by William Gibson

But there is a danger. A real and serious danger in these hopes. We can fly to our futures, our ultimate fate, consumers of packaged dreams, consumers of democracy rather than creators. Will our motives be as pure as the words on our lips? Can we mechanize our thoughts as we mechanize our speech? Perhaps. But what do we lose?

"The integrity of [the Bridge's] span was rigorous as the modern program itself, yet around this had grown another reality, intent upon its own agenda. … The result was something amorphous, startlingly organic. At night, illuminated by Christmas bulbs, by recycled neon, by torchlight, it possesed a queer medieval engery. By day, seen form a distance, it reminded him of the ruin of England's Brighton Pier, as though viewed through some cracked kaleidoscope of vernacular style."

"Dreams of commerce, their locations generally corresponding with the decks that had once carried vehicular traffic; while above them, rising to the very peaks of the cable towers, lifted the intricately suspended barrio, with its unnumbered poulation and its zones of more private fantasy."

"Steam was rising from the pots of soup-vendors, beneath a jagged arc of scavenged neon. Everything ran together, blurring, melting in the fog. Telepresence had only hinted at the magic and singularity of the thing, and he'd walked slowly forward, into that neon maw and all that patchwork carnival of scavenged surfaces, in perfect awe. Fairyland. Rain-silvered plywood, broken marble from the walls of forgotton banks, corrugated plastic, polished brass, sequins, painted canvas, mirrors, chrome gone dull and peeling in the salt air."
—From William Gibson's Virtual Light, chapter "The Bridge"

I would say we lose what the above quote from Virtual Light depicts. The organic human island in the midst of technology, organically intertwined, symbiotic; somehow apart but hopelessly interdependent. We, daily, hourly, seek to understand this connection, our place, the place of our technology, where we are and where we're going. Whether we need to change in this way or that. There is hardly even a question of the need for change. Writers like Alvin Toffler, who wrote Future Shock in 1970 speak of change as the normative assumption, not stability. Dynamism over Modernism, in a sense. Ray Kurzweil, author of numerous books on the impact and progression of technology in society, a futurist and innovator, as well as author, puts the future squarely in the realm of technological control. He paints technology as our salvation, not without risk or problem, not smoothly, but disjointly and rapidly (on the human timescale we know today) approaching the "Singularity." The world we live in, by the time we (young adults) leave it, if we leave it, will be nothing like today's world, just as today's world is nothing like the stone age. Will the transformation of our world bring about new paradigms in democracy? Will democracy even seem reasonable? What will replace it?

Nearly by definition these questions are unanswerable today. But we can guess. My guess?

"The more things change…"