Technical literacy declines as digital life grows ever more powerful. Social life is increasingly enacted in virtual worlds; interfaces have come to replace social codes and good ol’ fashioned bureaucracies. The screens and sensors of networked computer devices are everywhere. Technological mediation is fundamental to the lives of people born into the digital age—it’s a basic element in the lives of virtually everyone living—and it is no coincidence that there is a powerful incentive for those who profit from technology to restrict mass understanding of the devices they take for granted. Digital culture and all its social potential has been confined to a set of terms strictly delineated by the ruling class. Tech conglomerates and hardware manufacturers have more power than states, but without the encumbrance of needing to represent an historical identity. Digital life doesn’t exist without personal computers and platform monopolies—without generating profit for the ruling class, even as they viciously exploit the commons for their singular benefit.
Life has always been mediated by technology. History, the record of civilization back to the first cave paintings in 35,000 BCE, is the unfolding of the process of the species’ relationship to technology. How do we evaluate our present relationship to technology, with respect to the past? Has technology always been leading to cyborg transhumanism? No matter what, we should not convict the fallacy that Hume identified so well:
Correlation does not equal causation. David Hume, The Complete Works and Correspondence of David Hume, ed. Thomas Hill Green, T. H. Grose, and Norman Kemp Smith (Charlottesville, Va.: InteLex Corporation, 1995).
The fact that technology has always been present; that “recorded history” as such is coterminous with technology—this does not necessarily mean that technology should be there. Dragging alongside humanity like a parasite. The fact that technology has always existed in some form, everywhere, is a strong argument for its necessary relation to society. However, this tells us nothing about the forms of technology we live with today. The Digital Age has such a brief lifespan so far that it is easy enough to see it as the work of the bourgeoisie, whose interests are contrary to the working class. But
What follows is a comprehensive program for a web-based self-publishing platform. For years now I have been engrossed in the attempt to use the tools and systems of software development in service of a literary project. It started with learning vim, “a highly configurable text editor built to make creating and changing any kind of text very efficient.” The editor is a hand-tool that opened me up to a whole new technological ecosystem that is gradually coming together as more than an accidental element of my writing. I would not claim more than the minimum, being technically literate due to the practise of systems administration; and from of using vim alongside things like Git (a version control system); LaTeX/Pandoc markdown (a typesetting programming language and interpreter); and Jekyll (a static website generator), an entire practise that is not discussed in the humanities. My personally-configured computer system is the writing implement of a new media-based literary practise. I am a cyber-skeptic at heart, but one who is strongly drawn to technical computer work. My use of computers is aesthetic.
What kind of book is a website?
My writing practise includes critical writing, research, and fiction. The last is conceived of as belonging to traditional publishing, and as of yet is only a part of the website project through what influence it may have on my style. The first depends on a constant, renewed encounter with primary works, which itself is a pragmatic reminder to avoid settling into a scholarly mindset. I am interested in the political–economic character expressed in culture. My research into the history of art is the case-work of my philosophical research into the relationship between art and society. I follow an intuition that there is an avenue through culture for the optimism of the revolutionary.
I am always interested in critical modernism, as well as the precursors to digital aesthetics that I have found in conceptual art and video work. I have a major interest in new media, and am working to develop an historical materialist understanding of digital culture, or the technologically-mediated, neurotically-reinforced visual paradigm. My literary interests are in writers who move between philosophy and fiction. Dostoyevsky, Bolano, and Thomas Mann represent the height of what I have seen in literature; their accomplishment depends critically on the depth of their philosophical feeling. Nietzsche and Kierkegaard were two formative writers who showed me that it was also possible to move in the opposite direction, using literary devices in service of the medium of thought. I am interested in writers whose style shifts between philosophy and narrative, a diaristic first-person and literary narration; writers like W.G. Sebald, Maggie Nelson, Ben Lerner, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau.
The project that I have described has a political valence that need not be overstated. It is true that technical literacy is poor, especially relative to how popular technology is. It is non-trivial that the proletariat is exploited in virtue of its subjectively-gratifying relationship to technology; however, one artist combining their writing practise with a contingent aesthetic attraction to computer systems is not politically important. My own feelings on the matter are that the entire digital social structure ought to be abolished. The pragmatism of controlling the centre of one’s existence online is especially relevant, given the present instability of the platforms we might have once taken for granted. However, a website still needs to be connected to the web. An essential aspect of the project is pre-formatted syndication across social media platforms using a plugin system. Pieces of code can be added to the website that will allow for either scraping content from an external source (i.e. film reviews from Letterboxd), or posting content to social media automatically. The goal is to collect statistical data that will help me maximize an instrumental use of social media. This will not be enough to drive engagement absent my own meaningful participation in any online networks, but it’s something to start with.
The second element of my outreach program is the newsletter. This database of email addresses will represent a direct line of communication with people who have double-consented to hearing from me. It is of great importance to the overall strategy, and represents a substantial technical and formal challenge. The rough idea is to use it to collect additions to the archive. Periodically I will send out an update of quotes, theses, links, images, aphorisms, and refactorings. The items are all grouped under categorical headings, with some brief commentary on their place in the overall system.
The Origins of Art Criticism
Paris in the 19th century
White Boy’s Literary Canon
What Kind of Painting is a Website?
The published form of the archive functions as a single corpus, added to and refined over time. The writing lives as an ongoing process, an accretion of citations, quotes, hyperlinks, and cross-references. Notes become essays, grouped under sections around a topic. Topics are themselves categorized at the top level, an index tracing where my interests are grouped. HTML document structure, CSS, the algorithms of the website generator, the version control system, and the writing environment itself are a synthesis of archive (literary content) and new media (technical implementation). It makes possible a form of writing that is appropriate to the digital culture of new media. Articles and essays are all well and good, but they don’t take advantage of what is made possible in the presentation of text online. (This website is itself in an early stage of development, but it has its shape.)
The structure and contents of the proposed website, the published face of the project, mirrors the writer’s personal archive of visual and textual material. Drafts, fragments, notes, revisions, photographs, visual material, a Benjaminian collection of rags.1 Updates and revisions are scheduled, and changes are tracked and logged. Together, the work represents an articulation of thought that grows over the course of a lifetime.
Aesthetic Elements of the Hypertext Object
- URL Schema
Cosma’s website has many pages, but the URLs are all quite schematic. To my mind, they are unattractive and old-fashioned, clashing with what we expect from websites nowadays. I like the effect these incongruous URLs produce—but to a somewhat more limited extent than Baktra.
Gwern’s website represents a good balance of idiosyncratic URLs, and predictable categorization.
Social media was not a concern for Cosma and other, older Web pioneers. Unfortunately, I have to prioritize short URLs.
The archive is made up of textual units, all of whose location and content are in flux. However, the URL schema must be absolutely rigid. Preference for single words. Subsections of the page might be re-located, but URLs should be stable for long-term reference. I am quite bad at this, and still figuring things out. page structure and cross-referencing will get the reader where they need to go, in the event that information moves around.
- Page Structure
One of the classic things that hypertext theorists love to talk about is linking. In many case studies of hypertextual works, pages tend to be designed for a single viewport. In contrast to this, Gwern’s website is structured around “long” pages. The idea here is to create sections that can be linked to. The problem here is that style tends to gravitate towards singular works. Sub-sectioning is a challenging proposition, but it’s an important part of creating linkable units.
Like the URL, metadata is another aesthetic element of the website as an artwork. We want to think up metadata categories that can be used to genuinely reflect the stages in the production of a work. Of course, this demands an intimate knowledge of one’s own process.
This Website is my Corpus
- Blog page
- Modified time for posts
- Posts over a certain length get a collapsible frame.
- Changelog page
- Integration with git log.
- Template for writing git commit messages automatically.
- Format abstracts, descriptions, wordcounts, dates, and all metadata changes.
- Need to re-host the files.
Tag and category pages.
- Bug: tags from “meta” files (non-collections) not added to tag index.
- RSS Feeds
- Changelog, podcast, blog
- Style footnote links
- Automatic bibliography section
- Photo section
- subdomain linked in sidebar: photos.umt.world
- oriented around a general archive; galleries; and an ongoing photo project
- a repository for visual media generally, not just photos
- AI-generated tagging
- Links still need hover & click responses
- Section headers need links
- Icons for section header
- Graphic separation between end of page and the footer
- Three column max-width index page
- Graphics for bulleted lists
- Quotation graphics, Pandoc syntax for epigraphs vs block quotes?
- Style for code (inline and block)
- Author-date citation format, but style the quotes so they’re less disruptive to the text flow?
Proposed Research Topics
This is a big list of things I have studied in the past, and that remain an enduring interest. My goal is to write an article on every one of these topics.
- The Philosophy of Karl Marx
- Atomistic Cosmology
- The metabolic rift
- What art means for society and for people
- Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit
- New media / informatique
- Walter Benjamin
- Dialectical image
- Historical materialism
- New media / material cultures
- Dialectical image
- Genealogical method
- Foucault and Nietzsche
- Philosophy of history
- Will to power
- The Authorship
- The Educational Benefits of Studying Kant
- Onset of the Anthropocene?
- The Philosophy of Karl Marx
- Breton vs Bataille
- Alleged communism
- Picasso’s communism
- How communist were the lettrists and the SI?
- Socialist Realism in USSR
- Socialist Realism in China
- Film Noir
- The French New Wave
- Mainstream Canon
- Alternative Canon
- New German Cinema
- Cinematic Modernism
- Hollywood is God
- A profile of Béla Tarr
- Jean-Luc Godard: The Complete Oeuvre, Ranked by Era
- Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Communism
- Fassbinder’s Politics
- Lucrecia Martel
- The story of Lufa Farms
- Concordia’s Art History Department
- Existentialism and Men
- Corresponding Toxicities in Nietzsche and Kierkegaard
“‘Here we have a man whose job it is to gather the day’s refuse in the capital. Everything that the big city has thrown away, everything it has lost, everything it has scorned, everything it has crushed underfoot he catalogues and collects. He collates the annals of intemperance, the capharnaum of waste. He sorts things out and selects judiciously: he collects like a miser like a miser guarding a treasure, refuse which will assume the shape of useful or gratifying objects between the jaws of the goddess of Industry.’ This description is one extended metaphor for the poetic method, as Baudelaire practiced it. Ragpicker and poet: both are concerned with refuse.” Walter Benjamin, “The Paris of the Second Empire in Baudelaire,” in Selected Writings, by Walter Benjamin, ed. Howard Eiland and Michael W. Jennings, trans. Harry Zohn, vol. 4 (1938; repr., Harvard University Press, 2006), 48.↩︎