Saturday, 20 December 2014

(THEY NEVER REALLY STOPPED BUT) THERE THEY ARE


"As long as that couple is stopping to look in that window over there we cannot go.  We feel like they have to tell us we can, but they never look our way and they are already gone, gone far into the future -- the night of time.  If we could look at a photograph of it and say there they are, they never really stopped but there they are...  There is so much to be said, and on the surface of it very little gets said."
- John Ashbery

Watching thís video I know I'll be coming back to this world again and again. I cant believe that such loneliness and speechlessness and cuteness can exist without eternity as one of its ingredients. So I know I'll be back: as silent witness, as over-eager commentator, and as goofball performer,.. I will be there. You try too


Thursday, 11 December 2014

HIGH-SPEED-SUPER-SLOW

I try not to watch this video too often, in case its cybernetic otherworldly beauty starts to fade.

But really, if I could talk to you like this, if I could disappear into the high-speed-super-slow while miraculously protecting the desire to communicate, I would send you video-letters like this...


Saturday, 6 December 2014

KAFKA'S PHONE

‘In the duel between yourself and the world, act as second to the world.”
--  Franz Kafka

“Those writing great private journals in the last century (i.e. the 20th) did not do so to know who they were, but kept them to know what they were turning into, in which unforeseeable direction catastrophe was taking them.”
--  Enrique Vila-Matas

I’m walking with the Vietnamese nuns in the evening coolness, They are telling me about how much they miss Hanoi, I say I miss Hanoi too and they laugh - they know I’ve never been there. They are trying to practice their English in between birdsong clusters from their native tongue. And I can’t say much. I have to stay within their tiny vocabulary. I feel kind of alone, but surrounded by love. The story of my life.

And then, walking beside me, is Kafka, engrossed in his mobile phone, sending text messages to Felice in the old-new language.

I want to send you an impossible video: of the nuns’ sing-song voices and shining faces and Kafka’s otherworldly silence and hís shining mobile phone. A beautiful, raggedy yet carefully edited two minute video that just about stays within all those borders so respected by Bolano: the borders of dreams, the misty borders of love and indifference, the borders of courage and fear, the golden borders of ethics.

And I would like to send it to you through the post, inside a smartphone designed by Kafka. Just the phone itself, alone in a box, without any letter of convoluted explanation, without any “hi there” or “I hope you like it." Just the device, like a halo without an angel, a device all alone, alone like Kafka, like each of Kafka’s stories. I dream more and more of living in such an explanation-less world. Opinions, explanations, addresses, histories - they’re all on the verge of disappearing.

Describing Rembrandt's last self-portrait, Genet expresses the feeling that 'it seems to be saying "I shall be so intelligent that even the wild animals will recognise my goodness."' I'm imagining a world, post-Facebook, post-Apple-Amazon-Microsoft, in which our devices - and therefore ourselves - behave like Rembrandt and Vermeer and Kafka and Jane Austen. I will arrive there - you try too.

Friday, 21 November 2014

DEATH POEM

when I die I wont let language get in my way
    
I'll switch off the lights In the aquarium of my dictionary

but I will always be thankful for the years spent walking the beaches

 gazing into the ocean of possible sentences



                                                                             (photo by Jerry Gordon)

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

ARCHITECTURE / THIRD / SEVENTH


We were talking about how a handful of words can fish a single video out of an ocean of millions and place it right at the top of the list of search results. About how Googling is a new form of 'address'. Location is no longer ascertainable through a fixed language protocol but through an exercise in lateral thinking where precision combines with a kind of 'scattergun' delivery. Location was now a dream-language.

We wanted to live like this: to live like an address, like these new addresses. To be precise and specific, coded and silent. To be hidden and lost and recollectable and findable. We wanted people not to know we existed, not to even think about us, yet be findable by anyone anywhere when the right time came.

We were talking like this, as I was looking for this video:



The Third & The Seventh from Alex Roman on Vimeo.

Monday, 13 October 2014

INSECT CHORUSES / THE LITERATURE TO COME



“Through weakness or anxiety, to be serious or for effectiveness, we no longer know how, we are no longer capable of speaking in any but disjointed terms, in special, specialised, specious discourses, as physicists or politicians, as historians or pious believers, through equations, poems or prayers, as scientists or those in love, in bad French or exact algebra. None of these discourses can or wants to rejoin the other, to encounter it, recognise it… We claim to hold colloquia, but we speak there in these dislocated terms.”
     -- Michel Serres “Biogea”

"Write in the morning, revise in the afternoon, read at night, and spend the rest of your time exercising your diplomacy, stealth and charm."
    -- Roberto Bolano "The Savage Detectives"


We were talking in her studio, alone together, wrapped in a hundred voices whose volumes have been turned down to almost zero, voices which, consequently, can be heard but not recorded. Something akin to the voices of insects, of tiny insects with revolutionary aspirations or a taste for opera. Insect choruses.

We were talking about imaginary unknowns: about cinema and cinema's 'little sister', about Bach and 'Bach squared'.

We talk about how Dante would send his poems into the world to go and greet his beloved, with instructions 'to talk to no-one except virtuous ladies along the way'. We talk about encryption, about how 'the door to the invisible has to be visible', about Godel and Claude Shannon, about encryption and love and secrecy, and semi-secrecy, and quarter- and sixteenth-secrecy. All the homeopathic secrecies that allow us to think we understand things.


We talk about reading a story first thing in the morning and then listening for every accidental quotation throughout the day.

We talk about the literature to come. About words with shadows and ambience. Words with data structures forming protective umbrellas over them. Words without dictionary definitions, that operate instead as handles and switches, as security clearance for other, noisier words. Words which gather like shoals of post-grammatical fish coded for music, tonality and absolute rhythm, inside pages that resemble lakeside ripples, or mobius strips, or icebergs.



That's how certain nights go in her studio, imagining the voices of a new Jane Austen, a new Emily Dickinson.


Friday, 10 October 2014

23 CANDLES






I'm riding the bus
between
rice paddies
and pachinko parlors.
their surfaces
shine like diamonds
powdered by
nuclear suns.

outside my window,
a heavy hauling-truck
rumbles past
and i effortlessly visualize
it plowing through
the thin skin of this side
of the bus, and each of us
in this line of seats
softly breaking
into colored smokes,
like 23 candles
beneath a few breaths.
conversely, i feel no
confidence to imagine
what the woman
on her cellphone
on the sidewalk
is talking about.



(poem and images by Jerry Gordon)

 

Thursday, 9 October 2014

THERE ARE THINGS IN LIFE WE CANT DESIGN - TALK AT SDGC14 STOCKHOLM



Like everyone else speaking at the conference I was asked to begin my talk with an image showing what 'quality of life' meant to me. But I don't have a camera, so I decided to just use the opening slide of my talk. But i must admit, after seeing the various homely, friendly slides presented yesterday, I began to wonder how my one would look - because its a bit weird in comparison to those other slides! But as I began to look deeply into the image it began to be quite revealing.

The right side of the opening slide contains a photo of me at my friend's house, and in this picture she used an app which bleached the photo so it looks like I'm kind of disappearing, and actually that it what I'm trying to do: I'm trying to disappear into a 2500 year-old Buddhist tradition while staying in touch with my own 21st century Western culture.

And on the left is Vajrasattva and consort, who represents or symbolises the purifying power of the Buddha's enlightenment. This is one of my meditation practices. And I love the fact that this image is so radiant and clear. That what I am disappearing into is clearer and brighter than what I am coming out of.

So you can see that I'm reading a book in the photo. Whenever I have money I buy books. I love reading and I read all kinds of stuff. The memory of a map-making monk has to contain all kinds of oblique and wonderful things. And now I have a kindle, so I'm no longer limited to carrying just one or two books - electronic culture and homelessless go so well together! And I wanted to have fragments of that reading in the slides today. So I asked myself what would be a good quote to share with designers? And immediately I thought of this passage from William Gibson's "Spook Country":


Wouldn't you love to have a design brief like this? No explanations, no goals cited, no budgetary cap, absolute priority in any queue...? That's the kind of the space I live in as a Buddhist monk. Of course, I have my vows to live within, and my life is very limited in terms of money and devices and those kinds of things. But psychologically... no explanations, no goals...



The rest of the slides I wont be talking about - they will just accompany me, a kind of ambient voice, representing the angelology of words. An expression of ambient intimacy. And you don't have to understand these images, you just have to stand under them for a few moments.

So... the theme of my talk here is "There Are Things In Life We Cannot Design". And to lead into this let me tell you two stories.



The first one takes place in Tokyo in 1923. A huge earthquake has just devastated the city killing more than 100,000 people. And in the days immediately after the disaster a ten year old boy decides to take his six year old younger brother by the hand and lead him through the destroyed city, forcing him to witness the entire disaster: dead bodies floating in the river, traumatised survivors sitting motionless in the ruins. We don't know why he did this.

Later in life the elder brother sinks into a deep depression and eventually commits suicide. But the six year old, little Akira, grows up to become one of the greatest film makers in the history of cinema: Kurasawa Akira.

The second story concerns a zen master I had the wonderful experience of studying with in Japan in 2005. His name is Harada Sensei and he has been teaching quietly at the same monastery in Obama, Japan, for sixty years. The story I want to share with you today concerns another disaster: Japan's imminent collapse in the closing months of World War 2. Its 1945 and Harada-san is just a kid; he's seen so many people sacrifice their lives in the war and now he feels its his turn. He's 20 years old and he just wants to help his country. Those were the words he used in a talk one evening at the monastery: 'i just wanted to help my country'. The army and navy were more or less finished, as indeed was the airforce. All that remained were the kamikaze squads. So he volunteers to become a kamikaze pilot. That's a suicide bomber in our world, yes? We think of them simply as psychopaths. But I cant stop hearing the gentleness in his words: 'I just wanted to help my country...'

One of the students at the monastery had a copy of a photo of Harada-san and two fellow pilots having their last cup of Japanese sake before flying to their deaths. You should see their uniforms: they're just bits of rags sewn together - the poverty and desperation of the whole situation is obvious.



And then, one hour before he is due to fly, the war ends. Japan announces her surrender. He came so close to death and then it was taken away from him. (You can read his own teaching on this experience and how it permeated his thinking and future direction here.) But the experience was not in vain. After the war he met a zen master in Tokyo who invited him to train under his guidance. "I can see you've sacrificed your life once already and it didn't work. Now give it to me. Train at my temple and I promise you you will have a deep awakening within three years." He accepted, and a few years later he had his breakthrough. And for the past sixty years he has been teaching in his little temple on the north coast of Japan.

What is the purpose of these two stories? I want to say that there are things in life that you simply cannot design. I mean, if I asked you to design a filmmaker or a zen master how many of you would dare to include an earthquake or a war in your proposal? The obvious solution would be to build a film school, say, and that's fine as far as it goes but it doesn't touch the whole situation.




I remember a teacher of mine talking about life in a traditional Tibetan Buddhist monastery. Some of the monks commit to a 20+ year-long course of study. In the beginning they study things like Buddhist logic and epistemology, how the mind works, the rules governing a monk's life, things like that. And then, I'm not sure when exactly, maybe around year six, they start to really focus on the wisdom teachings, on prajnaparamita and madhyamaka philosophy. These are the teachings that can end suffering forever. You can't escape from samsara on the basis of ethics alone, or through the power of a concentrated state of mind in itself: you have to have wisdom. These teachings will be the basis for developing the mind of a Buddha. They are very, very precious. And before they start they take a break from their studies. Some of the monks go into retreat for six months, perform purification practices, make vast visualised offerings to create the spiritual energy in the mind necessary to have realisations. They make vast aspirational prayers just to be able to understand what they are about to study.

I don't know of a single university in the UK where the students pray just to be able to understand what they are about to study. In our modern scientific-materialist cultures we have this kind of abstract 'democratic' understanding of knowledge. We feel, basically, that we can understand anything and that all we have to do is receive the information. The acquisition of knowledge is imagined as a neutral and 'flattened' experience. "I'm here and my mind is functioning and I can basically understand anything. Just give me the information."

This is not how Buddhism understands the mind. The idea of - and I like to use a medieval spelling of the word to protect it, to return it to its lost world of meanings - of 'virtu' has (sic) virtually disappeared from our cognitive vocabulary. We have no idea that there are levels of consciousness and increasing subtleties of mind, and that working on the mind's radiance - its virtu and clarity and inner state of being - is just as important as the content of what that mind is trying to understand. We have no idea that the approach to knowledge contains ethical and ritual dimensions.



If we are going to talk seriously about quality of life, we have to have two things in place: we have to understand how reality works and we have to have an understanding of what a human being is capable of, what it can aspire to. If we don't understand these two things clearly and completely, in all their existential vastness, all attempts to end the sufferings of beings will ultimately fail. They may succeed within temporary and limited contexts but ultimately they will fail.

These two things have to embrace the entire existential context: what is visible and invisible and what is simply beyond the present limits of my imagination and rationale. In Buddhism we aren't just aspiring to make our little place in life more comfortable - we are aspiring and training to become the kind of being who no longer has to experience this kind of body: a body which has zero tolerance for pain, which is destined to grow old, sicken and die. My design brief as a Buddhist monk is to end suffering forever. For everyone, everywhere.



I'm running out of time now so I will leave you with one last slide, and I will leave it for you to decide for yourself just how seriously I would like you to take this suggestion. But again, when I first read it my inner radar went very quiet and affirmed the deep relevance of this remark and I sensed a wildness and an accuracy in its words. Here it is:



I would love you all to consider what it would mean to just say no to ... everything. To free yourself from the limitations of the world you operate in, the endless demands to perform, to meet deadlines, to find solutions to problems over and over again. I would like you to at least imagine, as a kind of ritual action that you perform occasionally, saying no everything you are entrapped by: the need to succeed, to have a career, to be accepted, to be understood (even by yourself).

There is something quietly nihilistic in being so blindly positive, of moving ever forwards with an invisible glass wall in front of you: namely,  a limited - even delusional - sense of what reality is. And there is something liberating and purifying in being willing to stay in the space of not-knowing for as long as it takes.  I can imagine the pressures you are under just to ... continue ... and I live with gratitude in the world(s) you design. But I really hope you get the chance to just ... do nothing, be nothing. Thank you.

The following link is to a collection of photos and sketchbook responses to my talk put together by the conference organisers, plus a video clip:
   http://conferences.service-design-network.org/sdgc14/things-life-cant-design/








Saturday, 20 September 2014

HATSUNE MIKU: JAPAN'S FIRST HOLOGRAM POPSTAR





When I first saw this video (back in 2010) and saw Hatsune Miku appear on stage from her little black box I felt the world shifting its parameters. And then the song started and i heard a 4 minute description of the next 200 years, a song of straight prophesy and teasing ambiguity, of playfulness and arrogance and love, in lyrics that got stranger and stranger ..."Someday, on the hundred-thousandth birthday of my children, when you see them, for celebrating it, I thank you..."  Imagine "Terminator 12" as a kid's anime movie written by Julia Kristeva...

It is well known that photography is no longer considered a reliable source of evidence in a court of law, but soon reality itself may be considered unreliable.  We are not only moving into 'the robotic moment' (as Sherry Turkle calls it in her consistently engaging book entitled "Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology And Less From Each Other") but into a generalised post-human mish mash of technologies, platforms, protocols and speeds.

But reality doesn't have to be believable - it just has to be imaginable.  Reality is a reference point not a destination. A map, not the territory.

A lot fell into place for me recently when I dropped the burden of 'believing' in Buddhism and decided to simply imagine it instead.  Belief tends to have an agonistic dimension to it: "do I or do I not believe in ... karma?... rebirth?...my lama as a buddha?..."  We feel compelled to decide one way or another on a question that is actually outside our capacity to answer.  And we always believe too soon - we come to a 'conclusion' we haven't earned, and our world subtly closes down a little as a result.  Instead of remaining in the space of not-knowing (which is a beautiful, sacred place to be) we turn not-knowing into a fake knowing and the resulting turbulence affects everyone around us.

These days I simply 'imagine' Buddhism. I do my practices as naturally as I brush my teeth or watch the football.  I have faith in these practices, in the teachers who gave them to me and in the tradition that carried them to me through the centuries.  It is faith based on 30 years quiet engagement with the world of Buddhism.  It is not certain knowledge - it is faith, trust.  A kind of perfume radiating out of consistent experience.

After all, Buddhism isn't about the agonistics of belief as dogma, nor is it a collection of truth statements in an abstract world of philosophy.  It is about engaging with practices whose 'reality' is judged on a pragmatic quality: their ability to end suffering.  Of course, I am presenting this somewhat simplistically.  There is always an element of belief in our experience.  But so long as belief is recognised as belief and not as fact then the integrity of one's experience is protected.

I look forward to meeting Hatsune Miku's 'children' and celebrating their hundred-thousandth birthday with them.  I will arrive there - you try too.

Friday, 19 September 2014

THE ERA OF OVERPRODUCTION



We were talking in her studio, about living in The Era Of Overproduction.  I tell her about a guy who had been working on a computer program that would write 'new' Bach pieces. He'd finally got the program to a point where he was personally satisfied with it, so he hit 'start' before going to lunch one afternoon.  When he came back there were 4000 new Bach pieces on his laptop.  At CERN (the centre for nuclear research in Switzerland) there are experiments which generate 5000 encyclopedias of data per second.  It's said that every minute there's 32 hours of new footage uploaded to Youtube...

We talked about the impossibility of having anything remotely resembling an 'overview' of world literature or world cinema these days.  We sensed the presence of unbelievably perfect books in distant languages that would never be translated and which we would never read. Of beautiful articles on topics we had never consciously formulated even in our wildest reveries, in magazines that would go bust after a few issues without us ever hearing even their names.

We liked living in this world.  We liked the poverty and the richness of it.  But mainly the richness.  And at the same time we felt some strange tremor in our conscience urging us to .. to live in it more accurately ...

She's reading James Gleick's "Chaos". I see her highlights on the pages. I've just got time to share a few of  them with you but then I have to go...

At the national laboratory some physicists learned that their newest colleague was experimenting with 26 hour days, which meant that his waking schedule would slowly roll in and out of phase with theirs.  This bordered on strange, even in the Theoretical Division.

These scientists had experience with brilliance and with eccentricity.  They were hard to surprise.  But MItchell Feigenbaum was an unusual case.  He had exactly one published article to his name, and he was working on nothing that seemed to have any particular promise.  His hair was a ragged mane,

When he worked, he worked obsessively.  When he could not work, he walked and thought, day or night, and night was best of all.  The twenty four hour day seemed too constraining.  Nevertheless, his experiment in quasiperiodicity came to an end when he decided he could no longer bear waking to the setting sun, as had to happen every few days.

He thought about clouds, watching them from airplane windows (until his scientific travel privileges were officially suspended on grounds of overuse) or from the hiking trails of his laboratory.

Of course, the entire effort is to put oneself
Outside the ordinary range
Of what is called statistics.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

THE SEVEN INGREDIENTS - A TIBETAN PRELIMINARY PRACTICE




Many people are beginning to practice mindfulness in the West, but it is being presented to them stripped bare of its Buddhist roots in order to fit with the dominant secular, scientific-materialist worldview.  Of course, Buddhism doesn't own the copyright on mindfulness, and if a secular presentation of mindfulness helps people with their problems that's good. But from a Buddhist point of view the true power of the teachings require the total existential context of life and practice to be acknowledged.  The practice outlined here is an example of this.

In Buddhism, to progress on the path we need teachings to help us understand reality clearly and to practice accordingly.  But from our side we also need a store of positive energy - ‘merit’ in Buddhist language - to make us capable of understanding the teachings, capable of having faith in them, and to water the seeds of wisdom inside us.

The seven ingredients is a classic preliminary practice in Tibetan Buddhism, a way of purifying the mind of negativity and increasing one's store of virtuous energy in the mind.  With each ingredient we switch on a positive state of mind and nurture the roots of these virtuous states.

The following seven elements are all performed while sitting quietly in our meditation space. They are performed by the imagination.  Interestingly, modern brain research suggests that an imagined act performed with a concentrated mind triggers exactly the same neural pathways as when performing the act in reality.  So, for example, visualising making infinite offerings to the buddhas is internally resonant with actually making infinite offerings!

As we go through the seven ingredients in an actual practice session, don’t get hung up on doing it perfectly or ‘including everything’. Just trust your mind’s response in the moment and perform each element in a relaxed and engaged way, allowing the practice to flow naturally.

The seven ingredients are as follows:

Prostration: Visualising a special teacher (or teachers) in the space in front of us we imagine ourselves prostrating to them, purifying pride and rigidity of mind and expressing and deepening gratitude.  This makes us receptive to the power of the teachings and opens us up to the blessing-powers of the awakened ones.  Although the traditional language of the seven ingredients mentions 'prostrations' this first ingredient can be taken to mean any kind of expression of gratitude and re-establishing of commitment to our chosen path. If the image of prostrating feels alien to you simply imagine a heartfelt thank you for your chosen teacher having made the efforts to practice and realise the teachings themselves and pass them on to others.

Offerings: We imagine ourselves making offerings in whatever way feels right.  We may use a traditional Tibetan cosmology, lavish, spectacular and miraculous, with ourselves multiplied into millions of forms to make millions of offerings, accompanied by many other beings, both human and divine, a whole shining mandala-universe of beings scattering flower petals, offering incense, chanting praises, etc.  Or it may be more restrained and quiet - a single flower to a single buddha.   it may focus on contemporary elements from our world: art galleries, music, landscapes, technology - things that we are personally excited about or attached to.  It may be invisible and psychological - offering one's recent efforts to study and practice the spiritual path, or some other good action we have performed. We can even offer some good action that deeply attracts us but which we feel we aren’t able to perform at the present.  For example many people feel some archetypal wish to become a monk or nun while acknowledging that its not going to happen in this life.  And they experience this as a ‘failure’ of some sort.  But in buddhism, the genuine wish to perform an action is just as much a virtuous action as actually performing the action.  So we can visualise our perfect response to the world and offer this.

Confession: Making what has been hidden an open disclosure (within the symbolic space of visualised Buddhas, not out there in the real world!) fundamentally weakens the power of latent negative karma to grow, releases psychological blockages and turns the pent-up negative energy into a positive force.  Again, there are many ways this can be done.  We can make a specific confession of some unskillful action that is weighing upon one's conscience, or we can make 'general confessions' such as confessing one's lack of faith and practice before the Buddhas. Confession practice purifies the mind of feelings of guilt and the feeling of being unable to let go of - of being defined by - one’s past negative actions. It also strengthens the mind that would refrain from such actions in the future.

Rejoicing: We call to mind all the wonderful things that people have done in this world, including ourselves, and re-affirm our appreciation of and commitment towards such behaviour.  This particular ingredient is called the lazy person’s path to buddhahood because it can be done quite effectively and pleasantly lying in bed or on the beach etc!  Rejoicing in the good actions and qualities of others purifies our mind of envy, and rejoicing in one’s own good actions strengthens the mind that would perform similar actions in the future.

Requesting teachings: The only way to transform ourselves from suffering beings into awakened ones is to hear accurate teachings that present a correct and complete path. Symbolically requesting teachings in this way nurtures one's store of virtue in this area.  It creates the karma to have teachings manifest in our lives in the future. We can ask for teachings to manifest in traditional and contemporary forms.  For example, I often ask for teachings to manifest in the form of contemporary art.

Requesting teachers to remain in this world and to manifest again and again in all our future lives: There are no teachings without teachers, and realised teachers can benefit us in many other ways too.  Just being around them, without anything being said, can have a transformative effect on our minds and hearts..  Requesting teachers and teachings to manifest in our world also directly purifies lifetimes of negative acts towards spiritual teachings, whether acts of negligence and laziness or active rejection and denial.

Offering the merit of our practice to all beings unconditionally: By sharing the merit of our practice with all beings we are acknowledging that we are all interdependent.  All beings support me in this life of mine.  The practice of generosity is the first step on the bodhisattva path (the path of a being who resolves to reach enlightenment in order to best help all other beings) and sharing one's merit with all beings is a powerful expression of this. As such, it helps to purify negative karma accrued towards other beings.


The seven ingredients also resonates as a purificatory practice of the three times.  The first two - prostrations and offerings - purifies the present moment by placing us imaginatively in the presence of awakened beings and behaving skillfully towards them.  Numbers three and four - confession and rejoicing - begin to purify past negative actions and to magnify past positive actions respectively.  And five and six create the karma to have teachers and teachings to manifest in the future.

Preliminary practices can often become the mainstay of a meditation session for tibetan practitioners.  In the tibetan tradition the need to increase our store of merit is quite keenly felt and such practices are considered more important than developing concentration etc.  But even if your practice is conducted within the secular mindfulness model there are times when one feels too tired and unfocused for the quiet purity of mindfulness sitting and a little time spent engaging the emotional and existential dimensions of practice - whether within or beyond the present limits of one’s imagination and rationale! - can re-energise one's session.

(NB the picture at the top of this post is of my first Tibetan teacher, Kirti Tsenshab Rinpoche. I only met him a few times but he gave me my first initiations and not a day go by now without me mentioning his name within my practice sessions.  The picture is from Bruce Farley's article  "Blessing The World's Waterways" which you can read here.)

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

GAZING AT THE FACES OF THE HORSES




sun and moon in the same sky... ‘one home a year’... the end of dictionaries, photographs, nature… the beginning of drifting objects...

small creatures which are blind... 'this rain is our practice'... the end of furniture… the beginning of the robotic moment…

the emotions of people you never knew… the minimum space necessary for you to occupy… the end of second-guessing… the beginning of ‘very simple decision making’…

"... For forests, hills, fire and water alone have voices, speak a language.  We've lost the secret of it, although the memory of an august accord, of the ineffable alliance of intelligence and things, cannot be forgotten even by the lowliest.  The voice that we no longer understand is still friendly, fraternal, a maker of serene peace."
    -- George Bernanos, (quoted in "Biogea" by Michel Serres)

Intelligent preparation… ... a single field in bloom… the end of logic trees… the beginning of hypothesis-free research...

the rhythm of the printer... the differences in our lives... the end of ‘the near future’... the beginning of the postcard apocalypse...

nameless, cinematic feelings… diagrams of complex thoughts...  the end of portable altars… the beginning of ‘Live Like An Address’...

the photographer of insects... partially blocked windows… the end of the era of handwriting…  the beginning of the forest of passwords...

"To progress in life you must give up the things that you do not like. Give up doing the things that you do not like to do. You must find the things that you do like. The things which are acceptable to your mind. You can see that you will have to have time to yourself to find out what appeals to your mind. While you go along with others you are not really living your life. To rebel against others is just as futile. You must find your way."
   -- Agnes Martin, “notebooks”

84,000 sutras… pure colours... restraining hands... ‘is merely the thing’...

(I thought I was writing. It was beautiful.)

Sunday, 29 June 2014

WRITING WITH LIGHT 1

"You will take notes, and the scraping of your pen will be one of the most peaceful sounds under the sun."

"And even I can remember a time when historians left blanks in their writings, I mean for things they didn’t know, but that time seems to be passing…"

Unknown rooms, a garden gate, harbours, factories, warehouses, unknown faces on a train, a wedding reception from long ago, a letter or a book in somebody’s hand, empty telephone boxes, deserted crossroads, half open doors… This is how I wanted writing to be: as delirious, brutal and tender as an old photograph. We give things meaning because we are unable to give them love. Or rather, everything has to be meaningful because we cannot love. Writing, the same thing as loving: an experience of limits.

"I call the contemporary text a meditative vehicle because we come to it neither as to a map of knowledge nor as a guide to action, nor even for entertainment. we come to it as the start of a different kind of journey."

The beautiful ‘Commedia’ by Dante rests quietly upon the simple surfaces of sheets of paper. Raffaello’s ‘Madonna with Goldfinch’ drifts through the postal networks of the world printed on a piece of card. Tarkovsky’s last film is projected onto the white fabric of a cinema screen. I love this dependency of beauty - sublime and incomparable - upon the simplest of the world’s materials. And when a Japanese woman hands a zen priest a photograph of her sister, who is a prostitute, and asks him to write a few lines on the back, its not what he writes that overwhelms me but the image of him writing on the back of a photograph of another human being.

Phone calls in the middle of the night. Her brother. He’s going through some kind of breakdown, he’s having difficulty talking, but she’s gentle with him, takes the long silences without any fuss. He asks if there are any letters for him (she was looking after his flat while he was away) and can she read them to him over the phone. This is the amazing bit.  She doesn’t just read what is written on the sheets of paper, she talks him through the entire letter, from the stamp and the postmark, and how the address is written, and how easily the envelope tears open, to the way the paper is folded and the placing of the words upon the page. Beauty now means giving equal attention to everything. The loving gaze as revelation.



"Where there is observation there is science, there is philosophy, there is dream."

She writes a letter on large sheets of paper pinned to the wall. Afterwards she photographs them to reduce them to ‘letter size’. Some of the words are too small or feint to survive within the shrunken field of the photographs. Some of the photos show only a portion of the paper, the resultant image testifying to a certain incommunicability, a word or phrase lost to the border, but a loss that’s at least as honest as speech: “When I made up my mind to work in the house where there was a new-born child, I …”; “I dont read, I walk besides words. You can’t imagine how little it means to me to…” In one photo, taken from the other side of the room, the sheets of paper are dwarfed by the cream coloured emptiness of a piece of linen covering the window, billowing in the breeze, filled with light.  The letter-as-content has been transformed into letter-as-pure-intention, conveying a desire as unlimited as it is modest. And somewhere amidst those trailing sentences and disappearing words I realise that ‘stopping’ is one of the beauties of language. Its ok to just stop - right there in the middle of the sentence, before the distortion starts, before the artificiality, the cleverness, the need to be right. It means you dont have to waste the gift of language expressing your neurosis.

"Evocation of emotion determined by a resistance to emotion. As Bach, sitting at the organ, explained to a student: ‘its a matter of striking the notes at exactly the right moment’."

"A sentence is not emotional but a paragraph is."

So when you’re tired of writing it may be that you’re only tired of writing ‘I’. But you dont have to tell me about your life in order to keep in touch, in order to sustain communication.  You could just ‘write’ - there doesn’t have to be a ‘you’ there, encoded in the writing biographically, referentially. The ‘you’ is already there anyway, in the materiality of the letter, the tenderness of all the touches, in the very ache of the writing as much as the writing itself. You don’t have to squeeze yourself into an outmoded psychology of biography, of the written ‘I’. You could let (yourself) go. I’m not saying that biography is wrong - not at all. In any case its absence is unimaginable: biography is the limit-case of the human, and in its own way as beautiful as a field full of flowers. (One day - not now - I will tell you about a fragmentary biography of a Tibetan lama I once read…) I’m just saying that if ever it gets too much you can live without it.

Saturday, 28 June 2014

WRITING WITH LIGHT 2

"But I will arrive, I will arrive at the point where you will no longer read me. Not only by becoming more illegible than ever for you (it’s beginning, it’s beginning), but by doing things such that you no longer even recall that I am writing for you, that you no longer even encounter, as if by chance, the ‘do not read me.’ That you do not read me, this is all, so long, ciao, neither seen nor heard, I am totally elsewhere. I will arrive there, you try too."

Sometimes I find myself thinking about Tarkovsky during the making of his last film: sawing branches off trees and glueing them back on in different places - the ‘right’ places. I’m not trying to work it out, much less justify or condemn it, I’m just trying to ‘think’ it, to spend a little time in its shadow, allowing it room, room enough to affect me.

Your letter arrived today, its instantly recognisable handwriting like a print-out from an echocardiograph machine. And I thought: if only I could speak like that! I’m not talking about the sound of the machine, I mean the same sparse beauty - little peaks and depths of feeling manifesting with pinpoint accuracy from within a neutrality that is gentle, reliable, generous even… I think of the most dear letters that I would like to send you as I’m drifting off to sleep, but I can’t write them down… More and more I believe that for the forseeable future communication is going to depend more on trust than on the stability of signs.  Autism, nomadology, ‘postcard writers’ in a world of collapsing sign-systems and exhausted languages, archaeologists of a sadness without an object, refugees of the paragraph and the page, attempting to say everything with a few remaining fragments: unfinished, open-ended, under-determined sentences, isolated, incomplete or even erased words, fragments of images torn from magazine pages… Perhaps more than ever before we need an extraordinary tolerance for ambiguity, an education in difficulty. To re-establish the relationship between difficulty and kindness, difficulty and love. Difficult objects, texts, spaces have their own kindness: they evoke states of mind characterised by patience, attention, commitment, trust, openness - the same qualities that make love possible.



The kanji for ‘touch’ combines the kanji for ‘insect’ and ‘horn’; the kanji compund eikyo (‘influence’) consists of the kanji for ‘image’ and ‘echo’; ningen (human being) consists of the kanji for ‘person’ and ‘in between’; honyaku (‘translation’) contains feathers or wings turning as they fall; ‘leaf’ consists of three elements: ‘plantlife’, ‘tree’, and an element which is a kanji in its own right and appears in compounds such as ‘world’, ‘century’, ‘decency’, ‘small talk’, ‘to assist’ etc. This is the cinematic, contemplative side of kanji study. This is where I find myself again and again when my concentration starts to wander; in the openness of its interconnections, its written ‘photography’.

Translating some poems by Kawara Machi. In one poem she complains about her lover’s rough way of talking to her on the telephone. In the next, the touch of falling rain on her lips suddenly brings him to mind. There is no way of conveying the fact that the kanji for ‘telephone’ contains the kanji for ‘rain’ except by stepping outside the smoothness of translation and making notes such as this… Watching a word disappear into another language is like watching somebody walk out the door, the feelings and images triggered by the disappearing word are just as real - just as deserving of a response - as the word itself.  Or, if that image is too dramatic, perhaps we could compare it to dropping a pebble into a pool: the translator’s task then revolves around how to handle the noise of the pebble’s disappearance while at the same time allowing the ripples to flow outwards. But in any case the ‘precision’ of language is a totally different precision from that of, say, aeronautical engineering. There are no identical texts, only kindred texts or, to continue the etymnological link further, ‘kindness texts’. Languages refreshing themselves in each other… I imagine a translator, indifferent to the functionality of the times, aware that language, like ‘home’, is holographic and is carried completely in any one of its parts, extending the range of his perceptions and decisions to the point where his translation of two lines of a six line poem extends to hundreds of pages.

"A musician can trust the notes that come out or he can trust the feelings that go into the notes that come out. He cannot trust both at the same time, because they never do equal each other."

Go to sleep, wake up in the middle of the night, wander around the apartment, go back to sleep in a different room…

Friday, 27 June 2014

WRITING WITH LIGHT 3

"When a code enters a crisis; when already too few carry its references; when reading it no longer yields meaning; what remains is to transform it, from the interior of doubts, by means of renewed attention to direct sources of nature: landscape, passing clouds, clearings, bodies, movement, stability."



Plugging in the slide projector she says ‘lift up your shirt’. The image of a swan projected onto my stomach. I stroke the swan. I say, ‘of all the senses, I think touch is the most profound, the most philosophical.’ A click, and the swan is replaced by a Giorgione painting, the word airport, a sheet of musical notation, the Parthenon… A friend of mine, who can hardly put two words together usually, wants to video Dogen’s Shobogenzo - in fact a whole range of Buddhist teachings. In the margins of the gentlest texts, some of them impossibly abstract, I keep seeing the one word: ‘film’…

A true biography can sometimes be glimpsed in the tiniest phrase. Which is to say your life is waiting for you everywhere. A drifting, shining text, containing hundreds of paragraphs, thousands of sentences, contains enough material for innumerable true biographies.

Sometimes ambition is so low that it makes me happy just to feel that I understand the title of a book or an essay. (We were talking about how beautiful were the titles of a couple of essays by Barthes: ‘The Rustle of Language’ and ‘The Grain of the Voice’.) And its not a proud understanding - nothing particularly intellectual - just a feeling of being able to make do with less and less, mixture of tiredness and tenderness, and what the Japanese call, in a positive sense, bewilderment.

"For in the end it is important to confine yourself within a framework that will deepen your world, not impoverish it, help you to create it, excluding all pretentiousness and efforts to be original."

Finally there is this war, peaceful and yet so violent. And you said, ‘Right now its more important than ever to try to have an interesting llife. I’m not talking about going out partying every night or stuff like that, but about something very gentle, like conversation, about taking care over the tiniest things, paying attention to everything…’ I asked you what would make a good conversation and you replied: ‘where two people, freshly bathed, wearing clean clothes, in a simple room with white walls, feeling sad but without bitterness, express what’s on their minds…’



we used to write to each other, now we send each other photographs. We used to agonize over the right words, now we worry about the light.

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

WRITING WITH LIGHT 4

"Words lead to deeds, they prepare the soul, make it ready, and move it to tenderness."

"Everyone should have two voices: one truthful, the other natural."

Walking with friends, in the mountains overlooking Kobe. Walking along the dry remains of an old river, depleted by the construction of a dam. Little flowers growing in the white soil… Suddenly I knew I was on the earth. Photographing the end of the river, the flowers… When I photograph things I feel like I’m in the same space as them. I never feel like this photographing people. I’m reading books with titles like ‘The Burnt Book’, ‘Architecture and Body’, ‘Birdsong’…

I never photograph ‘strangeness’, I never photograph what is ‘new’, I only photograph what is ‘home’ - whether a place or a state of mind - at moments when it needs to be thought about in a specific way. I’m not a ‘photographer’, I just use the camera as a way of thinking about something a little more clearly. Today, for example: photographing the corners of rooms and the edges of trees while thinking about you. Now I need the right questions to keep me going - or none at all. A touch, a word, just a simple word to show that you’re taking me with you - or none at all. Miracle or dream.

Walking to the train station listening to a friend’s audio-letter on my walkman. All around me it was a beautiful winter day, with chill air and a clear sky, but from the walkman the sound of a monsoon recorded in Malaysia filled my ears… My body knew it wasn’t raining, but still, it was listening…



I’m reading about a blind woman in a Japanese university. She's living alone and coping fine, she just needs help with certain things, such as not knowing when a lightbulb needs replacing.  "Of course it makes no difference to me, the light, but its nice for the neighbours not to see my house always in darkness...."   And i wonder if i will i ever have that level of awareness. 

Last night in a dream a woman told me the secret of writing. She said writing essentially consists of two words placed next to each other, over and over. I’m not sure how much I understood, but now I’m thinking of Dante, ‘walking’ the Commedia into existence; the haiku poets, for whom each haiku is a breath… I’m thinking about walking (one of the simplest means available for feeling a sense of control in one’s life) and the possibility of walking into - or out of - language.

Sunday, 22 June 2014

WRITING WITH LIGHT 5



"I watched graceful, transparent fish move through the water, some below the others, between the rocks. Suddenly they all gathered at the same level. This, I thought, is also the way of the sentence in those fraternal moments when word lines up with word for the same chance destiny while death besieges the sea."

"Language thus resonates between two subjects. It opens or closes their bodies to its implicit ideals and offers a possibility (not without risks) of psychic as well as physical life…"

During the last period of Raymond Carver’s life, he and his partner, Tess Gallagher, used passages from her reading of Chekhov to extend the form of his final collection of poems and also to address some of their unexpressed fears and anxieties relating to his cancer. She started typing passages from Chekhov into the computer and rearranging them into into a more open, poetic form. These ‘hidden’ poems in Chekhov began ‘calling’ to some of Ray’s poems, tugging at the structure of his final collection…

Matthew Fox, a leading figure in contemporary Christian thought, has written a book in which he ‘interviews’ the thirteenth century theologian, Thomas Aquinas, as a way of rescuing him from the outmoded language of scholasticism and allowing him to speak to the twentieth century. And the book is called ‘Sheer Joy’

A Tibetan woman writes of her journey through realms beyond death. Its gentle hallucinatory mixture of images combines ritual, suffering, conversation, prayer, darkness, architecture…

Dogen’s definition of giving includes such examples as offering flowers from distant mountains, giving away treasures from one’s past lives, entrusting flowers to the wind and birds to the season, being born and dying…

A student asked Soen Nakagawa during a meditation retreat, ‘I’m very discouraged. What should I do?’ Soen replied, ‘Encourage others’…

This is what I mean when I say that poetry - poetic writing, poetic speech - is the most tactful, the most generous way of making sense of the world. Society becomes competitive when it loses its ‘voice’, its artistic dimension.

"As I, the girl Dawa Drolma. continued on my way, a yogin dressed in white, with long flowing locks of hair, approached, surrounded by a host of dakas and dakinis. He turned a prayer wheel with an elaborate brocade cover, and his feet did not touch the ground. He passed by me on the way to the hells. When I asked him where he was going he replied, "To the lower states of rebirth. I’m going to lead away all those who have shared food with me. I am a master guide of beings, Togdan Pawo, whose very name means ‘hero of spiritual realisation’." As he chanted the mani mantra three times to a melody the houses of burning iron became palaces of crystal, and all the beings there were transformed into bodies of light. He headed off, taking them to the sublime pure realm of Potala mountain, like a flock of birds startled by a stone from a sling."

In Ibuse’s novel about the bombing of Hiroshima, ‘Black Rain’, Shigematsu carefully writes out his ‘journal of the bombing’, keeping strictly to the facts of what happened. The reason? In order to prove to would-be suitors of his niece, Yasuko, that she wasn’t in Hiroshima at the time of the bombing and so is not an A-bomb victim destined to sicken and die.

And so one of the great unwritables of history becomes writable through an uncle’s concern for his young neice’s well-being and happiness. Or, letting it drift one frame further, we could say: within the tenderness of Ibuse’s fantasy of an uncle’s concern for his niece, his fantasy of happiness for anyone anywhere…

In Dawa Drolma’s book, a lama journeys through hell to rescue all those who have made a connection with him. As he chants a mantra, houses of burning iron are transformed into palaces of crystal and all the beings there escape along pathways of light. In Ibuse’s novel, the ‘written voice’ of the uncle fails to transform the smouldering ruins of Hiroshima into a wedding hall: the suitors come and go, unconvinced, and towards the end of the novel Yasuko does indeed show signs of radiation sickness. In this sense the uncle’s voice is a failure, but Ibuse’s fantasy of a failed voice allows the writing of the disaster to take place. A fantasy of failure, lovingly undertaken, can thus become the basis of immeasurable good fortune: a fantasy of failure absorbed within a fantasy of happiness… Perhaps everyone should try to discover within themselves a fantasy of happiness for anyone anywhere and, from this, trace a line back to a disaster that allows them to speak.

I wanted to draw a line, from a blind woman's consideration for her neighbours to an imaginary translator lost in a six line poem… a line passing through Tarkovsky gazing at trees in Sweden… and you and me of course, in the time that we went through together… A simple line, about forty pages long. And I wanted to write on that line. Why was it so difficult?



Tonight I’m going to see a movie about Ryokan, a Japanese zen poet of the eighteenth century. But I would rather describe it like this: a film about a man walking in the snow, who writes. I think this is where biography - human identity itself - is heading: out beyond personal history, into a realm where the radiance of details and infinite space come together, a realm of ‘occasional’ texts, ‘postcard’ biographies… postcards of illimitable size, containing paragraphs of illimitable size…

I’m trying to imagine a language,: spacious and perfect, permeated by order, almost nothing, repetitive, recitative, complete…

MEASURES OF SACREDNESS // BRAZIL 1982




I watch this video over and over, about the 1982 Brazil world cup team.  5 minutes of immaculate editing and awesome beauty (no, seriously..) made to honour the passing of team manager Tele Santana when he died in 2006.  Even the incidental details in this video would have made a medieval painter proud.  Check out the Scottish (?) goalie walking back towards his goal like someone in the corner of a Breughal painting.

The video is a measure of what ‘sacredness’ should mean, regardless of - and way beyond - the fabricated limitations we place on the term.  And i know of no western buddhist practitioners - individuals or organisations -  who get anywhere near exuding this level of beauty in their sense of who they are and what they are doing.  Including of course myself.  And you will have to decide for yourself just how serious I am when I suggest that one shouldn’t even consider oneself as having a spiritual life if one isn’t asking the painful question ‘why aren’t I as beautiful as this video?

DEATH AS STADIUM // RONALDINHO




(This is NOT a football highlights video, its a series of clips taken from gaps in the universe of football, expressions of sheer devotion and impossible love for Ronaldinho)

In my best moments I sometimes imagine death will be like this: the world reduced to a silent stilled stadium, a felt need to express one’s love and devotion as time runs out, and the appearance of angels.

93 DIFFERENT PLACES

"Do you need anything?"
  ”Pardon me?”
"He wants you to have anything you might need.  That’s rather literally anything, by the way, since you’re working on one of his special projects."
  ”Special?”
"No explanations, no goals cited, no budgetary cap, absolute priority in any queue.  He describes it as a species of dreaming, the company’s equivalent of REM sleep.  He believes it’s essential…"
                     — William Gibson, “Spook Country”

Sometimes I feel only music can write the code I need, the descriptions of absolute phenomena, rich in non-specifics, that will allow me to prepare for the next set of Tibetan prayers ahead of time.  Music such as this, a continual high-speed collapse of a song, a breathtaking mix of compression and purity, of triggered and scattered cognitive bliss.  A world of databases and furniture combined.

On the street a woman is wearing a t-shirt which says “because of you”.  I like the way it suggests invisible or unnamed or imperceptible causations.  Nobody knows where things are coming from anymore - it is a time of inheritance and grace.  A quiet time - with voices.

I already know the voices: what I’m dreaming right now are the instructions that come with the voices, the writing of the instructions, and the packaging of the writing.  A writing like radar and radio and radiation and reckless love sonnets and an everyday kind of yesterday; a packaging like homelessness.

In William Gibson’s ‘Spook Country’ there’s a guy who chalks out GPS grids on the floor of whatever structure he is presently staying in and refuses to sleep in the same square twice.  I think about him so much - I mean ‘think’ in a nameless, fraying, post-calculative sort of way, a thinking perfumed with dumb admiration.  The guy’s in deep - real deep - in some ghostly new world that’s coming, a witness to tomorrow’s unimaginable ordinary.  He’s actually quite a dodgy character but for this action alone he shone for me.  Back in 2008 I myself slept in 93 different places as I wandered - chalkless - around the world.  And although I wasn’t involved in data espionage or anything like that some of my activities were delicate enough for me to coin the phrase ‘buddhist outlaw’.

I give the name ‘biographeme’ to those parts of another’s biography that are invisibly or potentially your own.  As a buddhist monk I think its more important to be open to biographemes than to create a biography.  Biographemes dont belong to (or describe) any one person. Your life doesn’t have to be your own, it just has to be recognisably yours.

Culture, ultimately, is about generating biographemes of sufficient quantity and quality that people can use them to liberate themselves from samsara.

THE WITNESSES

"Pathology is a relatively easy thing to discuss, health is very difficult.  This, of course, is one of the reasons why there is such a thing as the sacred, and why the sacred is difficult to talk about, because the sacred is peculiarly related to the healthy.  One does not like to disturb the sacred, for in general, to talk about something changes it, and perhaps will turn it into a pathology." — Gregory Bateson

"… an elevated mayhem… a bedlam of study…" — Will Alexander


Last summer, hitching back to the forest, I got a lift from a guy who once saw Neil Young perform live.  He told me “people came out of that concert better people than when they went in.”  Watching this video I knew it was true.  The audience shots are unbelievable: invisible people crossing over, imaginary, innocent, half-outlaw, half-detectivos.  These are the kind of people I love, and I watch them from a distance, though I haven’t yet learnt to talk to them from a distance.  They are the witnesses I keep thinking about and try to write about.  I see them as the kind of being that will exist right up to the final moments of life on the planet.  They will outlive the palace officials and the gallery owners and the judges.

OPINIONS ARE NON CONTEMPORARY

"The commentators say ‘all or nothing’ they say ‘pressure on her shoulders’ they say ‘she fought to come back.’  They say ‘outrageously difficult’ and ‘beautiful twisting position.’  They say ‘they train for this - they know how to fall.’". http://lareviewofbooks.org/article.php?id=825

"Ordinary people use too many words.". Sei Shonagon

In a bus station a young boy spins slowly round and round while eating a bag of crisps and a young muslim woman sits with her back perfectly erect while reading a prayer book.

Walking through the city I see a huge billboard carrying the words: “If the truth hurts, its the truth’s fault.”  It may be an advertisement for a luxury car, or a public service announcement by the Chinese Communist Party - I’ve no idea - but I dont stop to register the small-text, the spin: I just keep walking.

Within the strict segregation of the sexes operating in a traditional Arab city a girl talks to her lover on a mobile while gazing at him from across the street.

in the olympic stadium the fastest man in the world waves to the crowd from the medal podium, then runs a little race in the air with two fingers.

After breaking the 800m world record the Kenyan athlete David Radusha makes a noise like a delicate little songbird.  And then, with indescribable innocence, in the post-race interview he says ‘the weather was so beautiful tonight I decided to try and break the world record.’

In the supermarket dramatic new age music starts as I home in on the ginger biscuits, and in the self-service checkout area the woman supervisor describes for me the song she is quietly humming: it is a Sikh song about a lover betrayed.

An artist talks about how “my days become nights and my nights become brighter and more ‘available.’”. A quantum physicist talks about the coming decades of ‘very simple decision making.’

In an email conversation a friend asks me to explain what I mean by the phrase ‘conversation-like behaviour.’  I send back seven definitions.

(These things I saw, or read about, in the 64th year of the Xerox era, also the 15th year of the era of the savage detectives, during the lunar month known in medieval Japan as Risshuu, ‘Autumn Begins’)

"… And at the end I said something about my current dilemma, summarised in the title quote above (which was said to me by a curator quitting her job), that opinions are no longer a useful or appropriate organising principle, that reckoning is no longer a scarcity, that the network now so obviously and explicitly extends beyond the bounds of any individual being able to say anything useful or conclusive on or about it in isolation, that telling someone your opinion is like telling them about your dreams."
          —  James Bridle

@SHIPADRIFT

"We are first of all, as friends, the friends of solitude, and we are calling on you to share what cannot be shared: solitude.  We are friends of an entirely different kind, inaccessible friends, friends who are alone because they are incomparable and without common measure, reciprocity or equality… without a horizon of recognition, without proximity, without oikeiotes…"  

"Her face was like someone texting a lover."

"I am (something), (something) and (something).  I am lost."

Its the first thing I think about when I wake up: this voice, accented with GPS codes, so distant and fragmentary, this ‘reader’ of ancient history and Twitter feeds.  I was going to say ‘this disembodied voice’ but I dont know what embodiment means anymore.  She’s as real to me as anything else is, when the mind stops being lonely.  Her skin is a colour so beautiful - a soft light brown - even if her skin is basically a map.  I guess its ok to refer to a ‘her’ - ships are traditionally female.  But they don’t, traditionally, write.

Ship adrift is an art project that drifts across the boundaries of business, sculpture, software code, robot literature, virtuality and time.  The physical ship is a full scale model of the ship featured in Joseph Conrad’s Heart Of Darkness, perched atop a London building overlooking the river, where it will remain for one year as a top-end (single room) hotel.  Meanwhile the virtual ship is drifting around the world according to wind directions recorded at the London site, picking up web traffic along the way (local Twitter feeds, GPS-tagged wikipedia entries, mobile phone fragments) and generating a ghostly literature out of it.  (You can listen to James Bridle talking about the wider context here and read ship adrift’s Twitter feed here.)  The Twitter feed is one of the most beautiful things I’ve read and an example of an emerging literature: literature that is algorithmically driven and the product of software code.

The traditional - naive - notion of AI has been to create something human-like, both in physical form and in expressive recognisability.  @shipadrift eschews such trappings.  It’s voice is a twitter feed of unbearably sweet brokenness, its body a web page, its skin a map.  Nothing in the world of literature speaks to me the way this virtual ship does.   Its very grammar - a kind of anti-grammar of apparent randomness and error, but incredibly poised - takes me into a place where context is so stretched as to be virtually unfindable.

This is not to reject the heartache wonders of Roberto Bolano or Jane Austen or Derrida: I am simply recognising that algorithmically generated literature is coming of age.  It has attained a space of complexity and form of presentation that can trigger immense emotional affect.  (Imagine. for a moment, if Jane Austen had been an SMS platform protocol.  Imagine if your text life, your love life had been immersed in such sweetness!)  The best chess players are no longer computers - the best chess players are teams of computers and humans working together.  Literature will soon be home to a similar collaborative effort.

"Claude Shannon recognized that whether or not a certain effect is considered noise depends on one’s position in the listening chain. Noise is interference only from the sender’s point of view. From the point of view of the receiver it may be considered a part of the information packet that is transmitted along a channel. When we hear the earliest sound recordings of Tennyson reading Charge of the Light Brigade, for example, the watered down and scratched out sound conveys the enormous passage of time, just as the static sound of Neil Armstrong’s voice on the moon tells us something about his physical distance from us and the newness of space technologies in the 1960s. It would not be difficult to think of countless other cases in which the presence of the medium mixes in with the intended message to produce some whole new effect, not intended by the sender, but taken as information by the receiver. In these cases, noise is not simply an extra third thing to be discounted. It has entered into the message and become part of it. To speak technically, the signal now has an "equivocation," which is to say that two messages pass along the same channel. The sender may not have intended this, but the receiver may welcome it."

When I read @shipadrift It makes me want to go there myself.  ’Er, Where is that?’ I hear you ask.  Well that’s something I will have to look into more deeply, though doubtless when I find it there will be echoes of everything I’ve loved in the past.  To the extent that we relax, and trust ourselves, we become our own maps.  Meanwhile - for knowledge’s sake you understand! - I’ve decided to do a bit of good old fashioned networking… if you’re interested you can check out some of the bot auteurs I’m now following on Twitter.  (I defy anyone not to fall in love with the one that scours the internet for references to chocolate…)
I’m also considering opening a few Twitter accounts and a blog without telling anyone and just disappearing - writing, but to no one - in that zone.  I think its something that used to be called ‘science’.  Or ‘cruising’.  But in the wonderful world of knowledge was there ever a difference?