Everything wants to be digital

December 6, 2012

This is the fifth of six posts about the present. Caveat lector.

On modern poetics, Craig Dworkin writes: “So that the test of poetry were no longer whether it could have been done better (the question of the workshop), but whether it could conceivably have been done otherwise.”

The necessity of writing, and of doing it this way, here. Just as fanfiction must inhabit the network because it is verboten, undoable, unsayable elsewhere, it is at the same time the necessary form of expression online.

But all online writing is fanfiction, replicating not the characters but the concepts of the memespace, the context. All writing has always been fanfiction, merely awaiting the network to reveal its true form.

We declared the death of the author prematurely. Barthes was a futurist, like BS Johnson. Technology is our modernity.

On physical computing: “It is difficult today to realise how bold an innovation it was to introduce talk about paper tapes and patterns punched in them into discussions of the foundations of mathematics.”—Max Newman.

Turing did most of his work on paper: it was the tool he had to work with before he built the computer. The first chess program, played out in pencilled notes. He did this with everything. The materials are always insufficient: we are always trying to describe the next level up from Flatland.

“The way in which [Turing] uses concrete objects such as exercise books and printer’s ink to illustrate and control the argument is typical of his insight and originality. Let us praises the uncluttered mind.”—Robin Gandy.

Long before computational systems—which is coming to mean all systems—long before such systems were virtual, Turing took the abstract, invisible conditions of mathematical logic and formalised it into the physical: first as text, then as mechanics, later as electrons.

As these systems begin to boil away again, there is a value in the physicalisation of them again, not out of nostalgia, but to re-comprehend them. I make books, like the Wikipedia historiography, like For Our Times, like the robot atlas: physical objects intended to describe digital, networked concepts. In some sense I only make them so I can photograph them, and put them on the internet, with these words, again. (I have no head.)

Everything beckons to us to perceive it. My appreciation of a contemporary text is an appreciation of the network: will this text link me to further texts which will, knowingly or unknowingly, connect me to other texts that will expand or heighten my appreciation, not of it or the other text, but holistically, will raise the network value of texts and experiences in general. And the texts want this too: they are longing for the network.

Literature always adapts to the most disseminable state, and that state, now, is far more complex than our literatures have addressed, or our mental models, our metaphors, have prepared us to be. They can’t help it, but it doesn’t mean the apophatic silence is hand-waving: it is a necessary condition of the present.

The network is an emergent property of the internet, of the infrastructures we have been building for some time now, which sits atop other infrastructures, physical and cultural.

Everything wants to be, and being is a hybrid, digital state now. Everything wants to be digital. It aspires to that higher form, to be capable of being networked. And the network is what we have been building because it is what we need: the convergence of our tools and our desires, an unconsciously generated machine for unconscious generation.

Once again, we are teaching the petrified forms to dance by singing them their own song.

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