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Date Published: 5/31/1995
Arthur and Marilouise Kroker, Editors

Seven Items on the Net

Siegfried Zielinski


Now and again unforeseen events burst into the telematic Net. In a December issue (15.12.1994) of the magazine Fineart - Art & Technology Netnews, Jeremy Grainger broke the AP news story via Fringeware that Guy-Ernst Debord had committed suicide. The report was terse: "He was 62... Little known outside France, Debord denounced what he called 'the show-biz society' and declared that performing arts should be based on powerful emotions, passions, and sexual desire. His ideas were influential among theoreticians and essayists who achieved prominence in the May 1968 student-led cultural revolt that shook French society." That was it. That the co-founder of the Situationist International - who in Society of the Spectacle had diagnosed more than twenty years ago that all direct experience had given way to representation, who in the same book had attested that telecommunication "reunites the separate but reunites it as separate" - had died by his own hand did not affect the tidily arranged symbols on the Net one pixel nor their author. In 1952, at the age of 23, Guy Debord made a film with a dialogue seemingly organised on random principles. The title was "Howlings in Favour of Sade". At one point the second voice says, "The perfection of suicide is in ambiguity." In the script this is followed by a stage direction: "5 minutes' silence during which the screen remains dark."


The way language is used on the Net is most affirmative of life. As a principle, the language is positive, animated, apologetic, smart. It bristles with energy. It is an electronic fountain of youth. The computers, their technical designers, and the connections set up enable and facilitate and support (for example, nature). Programs lead and organize and select. Landscapes are created as are populations or generations, that even develop dynamically and are at liberty to unfold in (self) organization. The interfaces must be interactive and empathic (in the Aristotelian sense) or even biocybernetically interactive, that is, they have to organize something alive within the closed circuit. Their secret agents don't have trenchcoats with turned-up collars to hide their faces, they're not up to anything, as yet you will search in vain for them in the underground; they are tourist guides standing in the spotlights, inviting us to go surfing, leisurely. Many decades after their discovery by theoretical physics between the wars, the waves of possibilities in which quantum truths are now formulated exclude the violence of contexts/connections, they are not waves of pain nor of ecstasy. "The linking of sensor data with parameters of user interaction permits meaningful correlations over and above various output modalities." In Chris Marker's Sans Soleil, inspired by the music of Mussorgsky, we encounter a Japanese man who is always making lists of things, for example, of things that make the heart beat faster. I started to make a list of phenomena, phantoms, and modi that I miss on the net, and in the columns of speech on the subject that are getting longer by the minute. Here are some of the favourite substantives:
 dark anguish of spaces
 macrogenetosomia praecox


Although many differences existed between, for example, Artaud, Bataille, Duchamp, or Leiris, for all that the dissidents of the Surrealist movement had a common focal point from which they developed their relationship to the (intellectual and art) world: they disrupted their own marginal tributary as well as the larger mainstream because of their rejection of any kind of functionalized ethics, their resistance to one-dimensional rationality, their celebration of unrepressed pleasure, and their aesthetic development of desire as an existential mode. To them, it was of imperative significance that their thinking be far removed from any hierarchical structures and that their aesthetic practices be immanently and wildly heterogenous juxtapositionings (philosophy and cultural critique took over these paradigms at a much later date, notably with the work of the duo Deleuze/Guattari). Particularly for characters of a passionate and tortured/suffering disposition, like Antonin Artaud, the focal point of artistic praxis was the nondispersable duality of experience and sensation (with a radicalness only comparable to Bataille's work in literature), which he confronted with the pure praxis of the concept; indeed, this also essentially shaped the work of Duchamp, for all his extravagances and craziness. On what does the hyperrealistic avant-garde orientate itself? What orientation is it capable of elaborating and capturing for itself? The unconscious appears to have been consciously written to death after Freud and Lacan (who neglected to adhere to his own dictum that "there are problems one must decide to abandon without having found a solution"), and, above all, after their innumerable adepts and interpreters. In the 1950s and 60s, Activists, Situationists, and Performance Artists threw their own bodies into the fray, to the point of (self) mutilation and (self) immolation, against the discourse and the dispositives of power. So, will there now be a re-orientation towards concepts, towards the natural and life sciences, towards the illusion of a continuity, a flow, a beautiful order in chaos? Or will there be the creation of new, artificial bodies in the form of bodies of knowledge and their mise-en-scene as aesthetically experienceable volumes in the tele-age, moving and ephemeral artefacts in antiquated space?


The experimental work of the group Knowbotic Research suggests one possible avenue: their creations and workshop processes are factional, that is, they are extracted both from empirical data and from the realm of fiction, to which they always seem to want to return. In Circe's Net they strive to direct its visualization (knowledge and its organisation) while at the same time hinting at a seduction, without which art as a sensibilizing terrain for the experience of the enigma is no/thing at all. In order to develop this character of the double-agent, the "Knowbots" have been assigned a second mode of existence that can assume form outside of the Net: in the event, in the one-off mise-en-scene of publicly accessible space, they become once again empirical bodies, sensations.


The most complex mysticism praxis with the most complex language that I know of is the theoretical Cabala: "a technique for exercizing reason or, instructions for use of the human intellect... it is said, that angels gave the Cabala to Adam after being expelled from the Garden of Eden as a means whereby to return there" (Wolff). The 10 Sephiroth with their 22 connecting pathways constitute a sheer inexhaustible, network-like reservoir of associations, connections, punctuations; its construction principle is binary and it is built of the basic tensions of theoretical reason (CHOCKMAH) and the power to concretize, to form (BINAH). The only meaningful mode in which the Cabala can be read and re-revealed over and over again is that of interpretation. In this, the Cabala and art are akin.

Edmond Jabas Texts are philosophical poems. In a discussion with Marcel Cohen about the unreadable, he was asked what he meant by the "subversion" of a text, to which he replied by referring to the beginning of each and every subversion: disruption/interference. The paradox, that he himself operates with grammatically correct sentences and words that retain their connotative meanings, he resolves cabalistically:

I have not attempted to ruin the meaning of the sentence nor of the metaphor: on the contrary, I have tried to make them stronger. It is only in the continuity of the sentence that they destroy themselves, the image, the sentence, and its meaning when they are confronted with an image, a sentence, a meaning, that I consider to be just as strong. To attack the meaning by rebelling against the sentence does not mean that it is destroyed. On the contrary: it is preserved because a path to another meaning has been opened up. All this appears to me as though I were confronted by two opposing discourses that are equally persuasive. This results in the impossibility of privileging one over the other which, in turn, constantly defers the control of the meaning over the sentence. Perhaps the unthinkable is just simply the mutual suspension of two opposite and ultimate thoughts.

There be a key here to how aesthetic action within orders and structures might unfold; between Pentagon, academe, and the market which afford only slim possibilities for temporary interference, the filigree weaving of labilities.


On the Net, there is no art of this kind (yet): it has had no time to develop a notion of the Other, the vanishing point of which would be Death. The model for Net Culture is life and because there it has relinquished its unique existence, it easily and usually becomes a model. The algorithms used by the engineers and artists who are working more or less secretly on the orders of the Circe Telecom, have been copied from the bio-logical, life form(ula)s translated into mathematics. Genetic algorithms are useful and fascinating because of their proximity to this life. They are bursting with strength and confidence. For art, it would be worthwhile to attempt to invent algorithms of (self) squandering, of faltering, of ecstasy, and of (self) destruction as an experiment. In full recognition and acceptance of the risk that perhaps there would not be much to see or hear, these would be transformed into sounds and images. In the universal shadow, in the dark halo, where the strong light bodies of knowledge of Knowbotic Research move but that also prevents them from dispersing, there is a presentiment of this secret.


"When art becomes independent, represents its world in dazzling colours, a moment of life has grown old, and it cannot be rejuvenated with dazzling colours. It can only be evoked in remebrance. The greatness of art only begins to appear at the dusk of life." (Guy Debord, The Society of the Spectacle. Rebel Press, London 1992, p. 71)

Siegfried Zielinski has written numerous books in the areas of art, philosophy and communications, including Audiovisionen: Kino und Fernsehen als Zwischenspiele in der Geschichte. He is the Director of the Institute for Multi-Media Research at the University of Cologne.

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