You know how Google commands a fleet of camera-cars that drive around cities creating ‘street views’? This cumbersome process is only a suggestive stepping-stone.
In 7 years when every weirdo is wearing Google Glasses equipped with GPS, a complete pictorial map of the world will be steadily filled in. The uploaded views of 1,001 pedestrians in Bangkok will be aggregated by massive online databases and from your laptop in Illinois you’ll be able to tour Bangkok city streets and move your roving eye into restaurants, office buildings, and even some apartments, bedrooms, bathrooms, closets, refrigerators, the drawer of a mahogany desk. Any visible space shared by wearers of the magic glasses.
As this astonishing spectacle dawns/dons on us we will turn to various gurus to make sense of it all, and inevitably we will need to consult Mr. Borges’ short fiction about the civilization—striving fanatically for informational exactitude—that created a map of the empire the size of the empire. “On the Exactitude of Science” (1960):
Related: See also the White House’s new initiative to ‘map the human brain’.
Tanky Soundtrack: My Bloody Valentine, “Map Ref 41°N 93° W” (Wire cover)
p.s. in our looming future there will also be a strange new journalistic genre, wherein people will compose accounts of virtually-encountered cities, written from afar. It will be a hybrid of “The Parisian Prowler” and Jayson Blair style absentee-reportage. (Also, related: Instead of waiting for after-the-fact youtube videos, Washington Think Tanks will hire Google Glass stooges/fixers to attend protests, meetings, etc. in distant cities. [Through an earpiece] “OK, Anwar, do you see that guy on the left holding an anti-Ennahda poster? Can you casually go up to him and ask his opinion of the new IMF loan deal?”
Do you remember a while back we were riffing on the dystopian fantasy world, Warhammer 40,000, which, rather than being set a paltry fifty or one-hundred years from now like timid/typical sci-fi, is set forty-thousand years into the future?!
A comical, almost unfathomable span. Except: whenever I think about Warhammer 40K I think also about Cave of Forgotten Dreams, the incredible Herzog film exploring the art of Chauvet Cave—the oldest paintings ever discovered—which date from… more than 30,000 years ago. That is: We, now, are roughly equidistant in time from the artists of Chauvet Cave as we are from Warhammer Chaos Space Marines. (And, to these early human draughtsmen, surely we would be as freakishly post-human sci-fi as any 40K space marine—oh, if you’ll kindly excuse me while I update the RSS feed on my handheld device for an anonymous Yemeni blog about unmanned drone warfare… hmm, while I wait for that page to load (must be a slow signal from the telecom satellite—go figure) I’ll just read this week’s news about how the FDA approved 3D-printed synthetic skull replacements; the new worldwide network for robots to communicate and give each other advice; and how a rat brain in North Carolina remotely controlled the bodily functions of a rat body in Brazil via the internet.) (The thing, then, about Warhammer 40,000 is that we are Warhammer 40,000.)
One of Herzog’s basic contentions is that the wonder of the Chauvet Cave art rests not only in its extreme antiquity, but also its expressive quality—that is, the drawings are not only artifact, but art. The powerful, realistic drawings transcend the centuries and convey something essential of prehistoric experience.
Herzog argues that the drawings of Chauvet Cave announce the dawn of human culture.
I was happily reminded on the bus today of T.S. Eliot taking a similar line. In discussing the artist’s relation to her cumulative cultural heritage, Eliot draws the long line back to cave art. The cumulative cultural “mind” is a mind which changes, but “this change is a development which abandons nothing en route, which does not superannuate either Shakespeare, or Homer, or the rock drawings of the Magdelenian draughtsmen.”
At the time when Eliot wrote this (1917) it’s true that primitivism was en vogue, and appreciating Magdelenian cave art fit this aesthetic program. But Eliot isn’t praising Pure Premodern Man, pristine before all the muck of centuries piled upon him. He’s rapping about Premodern Man and all the subsequent stuff piled atop. For Eliot, the artist is situated in a long procession of cultural moments, and to become a mature artist
…involves, in the first place, the historical sense, which we may call nearly indispensable to anyone who would continue to be a poet beyond his twenty-fifth year (LoL); and the historical sense involves a perception, not only of the pastness of the past, but of its presence; the historical sense compels a man to write not merely with his own generation in his bones, but with a feeling that the whole of the literature of Europe from Homer and within it the whole of the literature of his own country has a simultaneous existence and composes a simultaneous order.
(It’s not a coincidence, I think, that this was written at the crest of WWI, when Europe was imploding. One senses an anxiety to gather and footnote all the achievements of culture, against the tide of oblivion.)
So, as the Mind of Europe crawls onward through the centuries it accretes new experiences, builds upon the past, and develops new tools for expression, but, crucially, Eliot contends, it does not improve. “This development, refinement perhaps, complication certainly, is not, from the point of view of the artist, any improvement.” Reflecting upon the past, the artist “must be quite aware of the obvious fact that art never improves, but that the material of art is never quite the same.”
This is what Herzog is up to in the cave, right? He would not argue that Chauvet has been surpassed, certainly not by his own art. And, in a broad sense, he too is trying to capture, to corral, to hold still, the wondrous experiences of being human—in a meta sense (art about art) as is his wont—but not unlike the original cave artists. Yes, the “material of art is never quite the same”—in the Chauvet Cave Herzog ‘draws’ with 3D cameras, and his cave images are displayed to others on distant glowing screens, but he is up to the same game. (By echoing the “dreams” of his forebears, he shares in them). And I think he’d welcome this comparison/compliment, and roll with this last quote from Eliot:
One of the facts that might come to light in this process [of criticism] is our tendency to insist, when we praise a poet, upon those aspects of his work in which he least resembles anyone else. In these aspects or parts of his work we pretend to find what is individual, what is the peculiar essence of the man. We dwell with satisfaction upon the poet’s difference from his predecessors, especially his immediate predecessors; we endeavour to find something that can be isolated in order to be enjoyed. Whereas if we approach a poet without this prejudice we shall often find that not only the best, but the most individual parts of his work may be those in which the dead poets, his ancestors, assert their immortality most vigorously.
p.s. BUT. To get back to our Warhammer space homies…. Eliot & Herzog contend a certain universalism of human experience—that mature art in any period rings roughly the same bell. But as we increasingly become psychic cyborgs of our former selves old art might become impossible—or merely a quaint hobby. No more “human experience”! Do we not have a renewed existential anxiety—like Eliot at the crest of the Great War—of a new Great Divide & an old world irrevocably crumbling? Gather ye rosebud paintings while ye may, for tomorrow we’ll be disembodied algorithms stalking the holographic horizon hunting/gathering network information packets. [Oops, Nevermind: I just received communication from Dunru, a Paleolithic shaman and art critic: “You think we didn’t have disembodied avatars? After Barnak, King of the Valley, perished from the earth his spirit was transferred to an obsidian stone, which was consulted for major clan decisions and conferred powers of fertility.” I stand corrected! Humans, always forever weird.]
p.p.s. Here’s a shout-out track for the Warhammer Space Marines: “Space Cowboy” by Sly & The Family Stone (perhaps obsidian?). Got some nice funk yodeling in there! Also, if you gulp the new JT album, The Mad Dog 20/20 Experience, I think Timbaland has been feeling the Sly Stone lately. Check in particular the outro on “Strawberry Bubblegum”.
p.p.p.s. To soundtrack the gaping span from Chauvet to Warhammer it’s probably best that we turn to sci-fi honky-tonk. From the compilation Nashville Sputnik, Brad Wolfe “Changing Times” and Joel Mathis “Time Machine“.
You know that silly internet meme where people locate “time travelers” in old photographs? Well—somewhat improbably—I think I discovered evidence of Muslim Brotherhood time travelers in an old Lehnert & Landrock photo. Check out the name of the ahwa in the classic photo below. The calligraphy is a bit ornate, but, yes, it reads: **Mohamed Morsi Supporter Club**.
From right to left in standard font, it’s:
نادي محمد مرسي مؤيد
While we await the next credit bubble, and with it the circumstances that justify pursuit of my master’s thesis, “Metaphors of Technology in R&B”, plz allow i to share some notes for the chapter “Prince//The Komputer”.
• Prince was an early adopter. He got down with l’ordinateur* in the early 80s, and quickly established himself as a pioneer of romantic cybernetics. On this extended version of “Computer Blue” from 1983 we hear a Wendy (Lisa?) monologue around the 10min mark:
Narrow-minded computer, it’s time someone programmed you. It’s time you learned. Women are not butterflies, they’re computers too. Just like you, Computer Blue.
[inaudible] chauvinistic computer, it’s time someone programmed you. You fall in love too fast, in heat too soon. And take for granted the feeling’s mutual. We’re computers, too. Just like you, Computer Blue.
(A) Right on. (B) The discussion at the song’s opening [“Wendy?” “Yes, Lisa.” “Is the water warm enough?” “Yes, Lisa.” “Shall we begin?” “Yes, Lisa.”] makes better sense when heard less as nonsense hot-tub erotica and more as a HAL 9000 dialogue—or, rather, non-sense hot-tub erotica and HAL 9000 dialogue. And, comically, the steamy scene seems all the more “sizzling” when we consider that computerized women are about to submerge in water. Let us consider also that this scenario was foreshadowed in “Something in the Water (Does Not Compute)” off 1999 (1982). “Does Not Compute” itself harks back to Funkadelic’s 1973 “No Compute” in which, btw, the narrator poses the incredible rhetorical question Is pig pussy pork? which, surely, is not HALAL 9000. (C) The above *asterisk*: A few months ago an elderly African-American woman knocked on doomspirals’ door, kindly asking us to consider the teachings of Jehovah’s Witnesses. This was particularly trippy because (C1) We had been upstairs reading about how Sly Stone’s bassist had converted Prince to Jehovah’s Witnesses (a faith to which he still belongs AND for which he participates in door-to-door proselytizing in platform shoes in suburban Minnesota), (C2) the elderly, debonair woman was wearing an I-wish-I-could-tell-you-it-was-raspberry-but-actually-it-was-a-lavendar beret, and (C3) she closed by pointing to the website listed on the brochure, telling me that “you can find more information on l’ordinateur”. (Luv the idea that this “computer fad” is so déclassé that it demands a distancing euphemism. Excuse My French, etc.)
It should be noted that “Computer Blue” was released on Purple Rain (1984), a full year prior to the Zapp & Roger masterpiece “Computer Love”.
• A decade later, as society began to grapple with the “computer blues” as the human brain was vanquished by “Deep Blue”, Prince had moved onto the next fraught frontier: l’internet. And here, Prince, ever the social theorist, explored the inherent tension in technology.
For Prince—a visionary futurist—the computer offers new avenues of expressive possibility (e.g., he’s a deft cat behind the drum kit (“Tambourine”), but it takes an unsweaty robot to make certain rad beats (“777-9311”.**) But for Prince, who also serves the square masses as guru of carnality & erotic freedom, the obvious drawback of the computer is the threat that human embrace will be severed/mediated by machine interface.
Prince addresses both faces of the digital dilemma in a pair of songs on Emancipation, his 1996 album about divorce (both personal & professional) & the boon/burden of new freedoms. Song the first: “My Computer” a duet with Kate Bush. (For more on this cosmic alliance, hear also “Why Should I Love U?”) “My Computer” describes a world in which letters and telephones are obsolete, old forms of entertainment are dead, and the outside world is a parade of horrors. To combat loneliness (“I could count my friends with a peace sign—1, 2”) Prince must turn to the internet, looking for “somebody 2 talk 2, funny and bright”. (For his doldrums, modern medicine offers no solution either: “I told them I don’t wanna see a doctor unless he’s lonely 2”.) The internet offers the rare chance to help Prince find companionship and “make believe a better life”. Listening to “My Computer” brace yourself for good timez. In addition to time-capsule samples of modem blurps and Welcome, you’ve got mail! the chorus showcases Prince’s shaky grasp(?) of the terminology: “I scan my computer, looking 4 a site”.
“My Computer” suggests the positive possibilities of computer-worlb, and the song is evidence for itself. Just as the characters are separate but connected through technology, so too are Prince and Kate Bush, who never worked together in the studio but swapped files across the Atlantic.
And yet. Prince is also hip to the dark side; by 1996 he’s already wary of online romance. “Emale”—which presciently rhymes “computer screen” with “sex machine”—vaguely describes a dark internet love triangle where moves are plotted like a chess game. The chorus: “www.emale.com / The king takes the pawn /www.emale.com / It’s on, it’s on, it’s on”. (For chess as the metric of machine domination over man, see also/again/above, Deep Blue.)
The early bird gets the worm, and as Prince is first on the scene, he nabs the inevitable pun “Emale”. But, more importantly, in exploring online romantic duplicity, he uncovers the pun wherein “www” also amounts to “double-you, double-you, double-you”.
(It’s fitting that Prince would explore the love triangle on Emancipation, a triple album inspired by the structure of the Great Pyramids (three discs, each precisely 60:00, a perfect/mystic triangle). Get yr numerology freak on.)
• Lastly, let’s consider a strange line on a strange track on a strange album. On “Batdance” from the soundtrack album Batman (1989) Prince—in the midst of a cut&paste sound-collage of audio snippets from the movie—makes a silly-voiced aside to a sound engineer: “Hey Ducky… let me stick the seven inch in the computer…” Beyond the obvious innuendo, it’s also a riff on the incongruence of trying to merge old-fashioned music (7” records) with the new digital formats. [The rather stupid album ends with one word: “Stop”.]
In its due course, this chapter on computers will require an exegesis on Afrika Bambaata’s “Looking For The Perfect Beat”.
** “777-9311” would later provide the beat for 2Pac’s “What’z Ya Phone #?” and provide a template for the drum programming of the whole album (All Eyez On Me, 1996). Of sexy phone number R&B jams beginning in 77, see also “773-LOVE” by Jeremih. (And sweet remix by Cashmere Cat.) (“777-9311″ was written/recorded by Prince for Morris Day. When we consider that Morris Day & The Time was largely a Prince creation (a vehicle/outlet for his other musical personalities) it adds an extra level of depth to the bands’ rivalry in the film Purple Rain.) (And, if you wanna get jiggy with the film & today’s theme: “Computer Blue” was originally titled “Father’s Song” (and songwriting credit given to his father), as the track incorporated a guitar solo based on his father‘s unpublished piano music. Computer is the Father of Man, etc.)
p.s. for tangential research, I invite you to browse the Prince fansite thread “are we living inside a computer simulation???” <http://prince.org/msg/105/391226 >
p.p.s Reader doesnotexist69 writes to remind us: “Don’t forget about Prince selling his music via the internet. When Prince bypassed the major distributors and sold his art directly to fans he was cast as an ungrateful rogue. Ten years later when Louis C.K. did the same he was lauded as a visionary populist.”
p.p.p.s. Photo: Prince and the computer.
Related. File under Nightmare Future Is Now.
Just in time for Valentine’s Day?? The funniest part to me is making a bunch of these in anticipation of demand but leaving the names blank.
A curse tablet or binding spell (defixio in Latin, κατάδεσμος katadesmos in Greek) is a type of curse found throughout the Graeco-Roman world, in which someone would ask the gods to do harm to others.
These texts were typically scratched on very thin sheets of lead in tiny letters, then often rolled, folded, or pierced with nails. These bound tablets were then usually placed beneath the ground: either buried in graves or tombs, thrown into wells or pools, sequestered in underground sanctuaries, or nailed to the walls of temples. Tablets were also used for love spells and, when used in this manner they were placed inside the home of the desired target. They are sometimes discovered along with small dolls or figurines (sometimes inaccurately referred to as “Voodoo dolls“), which may also be pierced by nails. The figurines resembled the target and often had both their feet and hands bound. Curse tablets also included hair or pieces of clothing. This is especially the case in love spells, which calls for “hair from the head of the love target.” Some love spells have even been discovered “folded around some hair,” probably to bind the spell itself. “Not all tablets included a personal name, but it is clear especially in the Roman period, that tablets were sometimes prepared in advance, with space left for inserting the names provided by paying customers.”
One of the vomit-piles of modern life is formal email correspondence. Swapping stock phrases with strangers at the unfun costume party called “job”: No Thanks! Was amused then to discover that the ubiquitous Please Find Attached‘s stodgy uncle Please Find Enclosed has long been a punching bag of usage guides.
Bryan Garner writes of enclosed please find, please find enclosed, enclosed herewith, and enclosed herein: “These phrases—common in commercial and legal correspondence—are archaic deadwood for here are, enclosed is, I’ve enclosed, or the like. Interestingly, business-writing texts have consistently condemned the phrases since the late 19th century” and provides a few samples.
“Please find enclosed: A more ridiculous use of words, it seems to me, there could not be.” R.G. White (1880)
“Inclosed herewith please find. Inclosed and herewith mean the same thing. How foolish to tell your reader twice exactly where the check is, and then to suggest that he look around to see if he can find it anywhere. Say ‘We are enclosing our check for $25.50.’” Bartholomew & Hurlbut (1924)
“Please find enclosed. This worn-out formula is not in good use in letters, either business or personal.” M. Weseen (1928)
“When you read a letter that sounds as if it were a compendium of pat expressions from some old letter book of the goose-quill period, do you feel that you are communicating with the writer’s mind? On the contrary, if you have a discerning mind, you know that you are merely getting a reflex from one who lacks taste and good mental digestion…. When you compose letters, beware these bromides: …inclosed please find.” H. Cramp (1930)
“Business words and expressions borrowed from an earlier generation can make your writing sound artificial and pedantic. Every letter will read like a form letter, and you will sound bored or, even worse, boring. Thinking up substitute phrases is easy if you put your mind to it. Consider some of these revisions: … Enclosed please find [becomes] I am enclosing.” M. Piotrowski (1989)
American, born 1954
Kill Yourself, 1989
Vinyl paint on canvas
70 x 90 inches (177.8 x 228.6 cm)
In recognition of the victory of The Ravens, here is a haunted tidbit related to Mr. Edgar Allan Poe. Written by Gauguin in the Marquesas (tite flag) shortly before the painter’s death, it relates an anecdote from Paris, 1880.
… Do not get the notion of reading Edgar Allan Poe except in some very reassuring place….
Let me tell you a true story. My wife and I were both reading in front of the fireplace. Outdoors it was cold. My wife was reading Poe’s The Black Cat…
The fire was about to go out and the weather was cold. It was time to go fetch some coal. My wife went down to the cellar of the little house we had sublet from the painter Jobbé-Duval.
On the steps a black cat gave a frightened jump. So did my wife. But after a moment of hesitation she continued on her way. Two shovelfuls of coal—and a skull emerged from the heap of coal. Shivering with frieght my wife left everything in the cellar, raced back up the stairs, and finally fainted in the bedroom. I went down in turn, and as I shoveled more coal I brought an entire skeleton to light. It was an old wired skeleton that Jobbé-Duval had used and then, when it had gone out of joint, had thrown away in the cellar.
… Beware of reading Edgar Allan Poe.
Yes, beware of reading EAP… especially his godawful poetry. Somehow the French have always thought him a badass. BTW, Gauguin compares Poe’s work to the paintings of Odilon Redon. (p.s. the expression on this “face” is not acceptable!)