MachineMachine /stream - tagged with imitation en-us LifePress <![CDATA[Beyond humans, what other kinds of minds might be out there? | Aeon Essays]]>

In 1984, the philosopher Aaron Sloman invited scholars to describe ‘the space of possible minds’. Sloman’s phrase alludes to the fact that human minds, in all their variety, are not the only sorts of minds.

Thu, 20 Oct 2016 03:05:12 -0700
<![CDATA[Turing Test success marks milestone in computing history]]>

An historic milestone in artificial intelligence set by Alan Turing - the father of modern computer science - has been achieved at an event organised by the University of Reading.

Wed, 29 Apr 2015 16:19:44 -0700
<![CDATA[Goodbye, Turing Test; Bring on the Turing Decathlon - Facts So Romantic - Nautilus]]>

How many researchers does it take to change a test of artificial intelligence? Sixty-five years ago, famed mathematician and WWII code-breaker Alan Turing unveiled the “Imitation Game,” a playful scenario designed to test a computer’s ability to disguise itself as a human agent.

Tue, 10 Feb 2015 04:11:56 -0800
<![CDATA[Turing Machines and (Gothic) Horror]]>

I am interested in any writings connecting (Universal) Turing Machines and horror. The idea of computers being able to imitate the behaviour of anything speaks to me of the monsters and doppelgängers from the Gothic tradition onwards. Know any writings on this? Alan Turing's 'Imitation Game' (not the film) plays a part in my hunch, as does the long discourse around biological processes as being 'machine-like'. Artificial Intelligence might come into this, but I am more interested in mimesis itself, and the fear this strikes in us. A machine able to imitate anything and everything surely echoes fears and nightmares that are labelled 'Gothic'.

Critical writings, fiction, articles and otherwise are very welcome indeed. Thanks.

Wed, 03 Dec 2014 04:44:13 -0800
<![CDATA[An Ontology of Everything on the Face of the Earth]]>

This essay was originally published as part of a special issue of Alluvium Journal on Digital Metaphors, edited by Zara Dinnen and featuring contributions from Rob Gallagher and Sophie Jones. John Carpenter’s 1982 film, The Thing, is a claustrophobic sci-fi thriller, exhibiting many hallmarks of the horror genre. The film depicts a sinister turn for matter, where the chaos of the replicating, cancerous cell is expanded to the human scale and beyond. In The Thing we watch as an alien force terrorises an isolated Antarctic outpost. The creature exhibits an awesome ability to imitate, devouring any creature it comes across before giving birth to an exact copy in a burst of blood and protoplasm. The Thing copies cell by cell and its process is so perfect – at every level of replication – that the resultant simulacrum speaks, acts and even thinks like the original. The Thing is so relentless, its copies so perfect, that the outpost’s Doctor, Blair, is sent mad at the implications: Blair: If a cell gets out it could imitate everything on the face of the Earth… and it’s not gonna stop!!! Based on John W. Campbell’s 1938 novella, Who Goes There?, Carpenter’s film revisits a gothic trope, as numerous in its incarnations as are the forms it is capable of taking. In Campbell’s original novella, the biologically impure is co-inhabited by a different type of infection: an infection of the Antarctic inhabitants’ inner lives. Plucked from an icy grave, The Thing sits, frozen solid, in a dark corner of the outpost, drip dripping towards re-animation. Before its cells begin their interstitial jump from alien to earthly biology, it is the dreams of the men that become infected: ‘So far the only thing you have said this thing gave off that was catching was dreams. I’ll go so far as to admit that.’ An impish, slightly malignant grin crossed the little man’s seamed face. ‘I had some, too. So. It’s dream-infectious. No doubt an exceedingly dangerous malady.’ (Campbell)

The Thing’s voracious drive to consume and imitate living beings calls to mind Freud’s uncanny: the dreadful creeping horror that dwells between homely and unhomely. According to Ernst Jentsch, whose work Freud references in his study, the uncanny is kindled, ‘when there is intellectual uncertainty whether an object is alive or not, and when an inanimate object becomes too much like an animate one’ (Grenville 233). A body in the act of becoming: John W. Campbell’s novella depicts The Thing as a monstrous body that “swallows the world and is itself swallowed by the world”

In the original novella, The Thing is condensed as much from the minds of the men, as from its own horrific, defrosting bulk. A slowly surfacing nightmare that acts to transform alien matter into earthly biology also has the effect of transferring the inner, mental lives of the men, into the resultant condensation. John W. Campbell had no doubts that The Thing could become viscous, mortal human flesh, but in order to truly imitate its prey, the creature must infect and steal inner life too, pulling ghosts, kicking and screaming, out of their biological machines. As a gothic figure, Campbell’s Thing disrupts the stable and integral vision of human being, of self-same bodies housing ‘unitary and securely bounded’ (Hurley 3) subjectivities, identical and extensive through time. John W. Campbell’s characters confront their anguish at being embodied: their nightmares are literally made flesh. As Kelly Hurley reminds us in her study on The Gothic Body, Mikhail Bakhtin noted: The grotesque body… is a body in the act of becoming. It is never finished, never completed; it is continually built, created, and builds and creates another body. Moreover, the body swallows the world and is itself swallowed by the world (Hurley 28). Each clone’s otherness is an uncanny exposure of the abject relationship we endure with ourselves as vicarious, fragmented, entropic forms. In the 44 years between the novella and John Carpenter’s 1982 film, there were many poor clones of The Thing depicted in cinema. Films such as Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) and, It Came from Outer Space (1953) are replete with alien dopplegangers, abject human forms, cast away very much as in gothic tradition. Howard Hawk’s film, The Thing from Another World (1951), the first to explicitly translate Who Goes There?, completely disfigures Campbell’s story. The resultant monster is nothing more than, what one character calls, ‘an intellectual carrot’, grown from alien cells in a laboratory. The film is worth considering though for its Cold War undertones. Recast in an Arctic military base, Hawk’s Thing is an isolated monster set against a small, well organised army of cooperative men. Faced with disaster the men group together, fighting for a greater good than each of them alone represents.

Cinematic clones of The Thing: 1950s American Science Fiction films like It Came From Outer Space and Invasion of the Body Snatchers are replete with alien doppelgangers and abject human forms [Images used under fair dealings provisions] The metaphor of discrete cells coordinating into autopoeitic organisms, does not extend to the inhabitants of the isolated Antarctic outpost in the original short story, nor in the 1982 version. Rather than unite against their foe, they begin to turn on each other, never knowing who might be The Thing. In a series of enactments of game-theory, the characters do piece together a collective comprehension: that if The Thing is to eventually imitate ‘everything on the face of the Earth’ it must not show itself now, lest the remaining humans group together and destroy it. The Thing’s alien biology calls to mind the original design of the internet, intended, according to Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri: …to withstand military attack. Since it has no center and almost any portion can operate as an autonomous whole, the network can continue to function even when part of it has been destroyed. The same design element that ensures survival, the decentralisation, is also what makes control of the network so difficult (Hardt and Negri 299). The novella Who Goes There? and the film, The Thing, sit either side of a pivotal era in the advancement of information technology. How a life form or a biological computer work is immaterial to the behaviours they present to an observer. John Carpenter’s The Thing explores the fulfilment of Alan Turing’s ‘Imitation Game.’ Moving away from Campbell’s original appeal to telepathy and a mind/body split, the materialist vision of Carpenter’s film confronts us with a more fundamental horror. That every part of us is reducible to every other. In her book Refiguring Life, Evelyn Fox Keller argues that: As a consequence of the technological and conceptual transformations we have witnessed in the last three decades, the body itself has been irrevocably transformed… The body of modern biology, like the DNA molecule – and also like the modern corporate or political body – has become just another part of an informational network, now machine, now message, always ready for exchange, each for the other (Keller 117–118). Meanwhile, eschewing Martin Heidegger’s definition of a thing (in which objects are brought out of the background of existence through human use), Bill Brown marks the emergence of things through the encounter: As they circulate through our lives… we look through objects because there are codes by which our interpretive attention makes them meaningful, because there is a discourse of objectivity that allows us to use them as facts. A thing, in contrast, can hardly function as a window. We begin to confront the thingness of objects when they stop working for us… (Brown 4).

A thing or an object? Bill Brown argues that we look through objects but are confronted by things [Image by Marc PhOtOnQuAnTiQuE under a CC BY-NC-ND license] In his infamous 1950 paper, Computing Machinery and Intelligence, Alan Turing introduced the notion that a computer is nothing more than a machine that functions by pretending to be other machines. (Turing) Asking the question ‘can machines think?’ Turing replaced the ambiguity of ‘thought’ and ‘intelligence’ with imitation, proposing a test that avoided the need to know what was going on inside a machine, in favour of merely experiencing its affects. In a lecture entitled ‘Can Digital Computers Think?’, Turing expounds his point: It is not difficult to design machines whose behaviour appears quite random to anyone who does not know the details of their construction. Naturally enough the inclusion of this random element, whichever technique is used, does not solve our main problem, how to programme a machine to imitate a brain, or as we might say more briefly, if less accurately, to think. But it gives us some indication of what the process will be like. We must not always expect to know what the computer is going to do. We should be pleased when the machine surprises us, in rather the same way as one is pleased when a pupil does something which he had not been explicitly taught to do (Shieber 114–115). The mutability of Earthly life, its ability to err, to stumble upon novel strategies through random, blind chance, represents its most innate capacity. Biological life changes by mutation, passing those mutations on to the next generation, ad infinitum. The Thing, in opposition to this, can only become its other absolutely. There is no room for error, for mutation, for change or evolution: instead, The Thingly cadaver of Norris must protect its otherness in the only way it knows how: by transforming itself into a defensive form previously programmed and stored in its protoplasm. In terms of creativity it cannot escape its programming. Turing’s lecture hints at a further unsettling conclusion we can make: that even though novel behaviour may be consistent with error, from appearances alone it is impossible to distinguish something ontologically novel, with a behaviour which has been programmed to appear as such. The Thing is a Universal Turing Machine, a post-digital plasma, encoded with the biological ticker-tape of a thousand alien worlds. Put more simply, in the words of protagonist John MacReady: MacReady: Somebody in this camp ain’t what he appears to be. [my emphasis]

The “Gothicity” of matter? The digital metaphor of the Thing reveals that through imitation computers confer humanity upon us [Image by 

Mon, 09 Dec 2013 10:34:38 -0800
<![CDATA[Meaning as gloss]]>

Frances Egan is a mind-bombing philosopher who wonders on explanatory frameworks of science, the fits and starts of mind evolution, the links between neuroscience and meaning, the redness of tomatoes, the difference between horizon and zenith moons, fMRI interfaces with philosophy, mind/computer uploading and the consciousness of the USA. All in all, she is a deep groove hipster of the philo-mindster jive. Awesome!

3:AM: What made you a philosopher and has it been rewarding so far?

Frances Egan: I read some political philosophy on my own in high school, but I wasn’t exposed to philosophy systematically until college. I took a philosophy course in my first semester because I was looking for something different. After a brief introduction to logic we discussed the problem of evil: how could an omnipotent, benevolent god allow so much pain and suffering? I was raised Catholic but that was the end of religion for me. Nothing quite that dramatic has happened since, but thinking about fund

Wed, 14 Nov 2012 04:39:00 -0800
<![CDATA[Abject Materialities: An Ontology of Everything on the Face of the Earth]]>

On the 5th of October I took part in the ASAP/4 ‘Genres of the Present’ Conference at the Royal College of Art. In collusion with Zara Dinnen, Rob Gallagher and Simon Clark, I delivered a paper on The Thing, as part of a panel on contemporary ‘Figures’. Our idea was to perform the exhaustion of the Zombie as a contemporary trope, and then suggest some alternative figures that might usefully replace it. Our nod to the ‘Figure’ was inspired, in part, by this etymological diversion from Bruno Latour’s book, On the Modern Cult of the Factish Gods: To designate the aberration of the coastal Guinea Blacks, and to cover up their own misunderstanding, the Portuguese (very Catholic, explorers, conquerors, and to a certain extent slave traders as well) are thought to have used the adjective feitiço, from feito, the past participle of the Portuguese verb “to do, to make.” As a noun, it means form, figure, configuration, but as an adjective, artificial, fabricated, factitious and finally, enchanted. Right from the start, the word’s etymology refused, like the Blacks, to choose between what is shaped by work and what is artificial; this refusal, this hesitation, induced fascination and brought on spells. (pg. 6)

My paper is a short ‘work-in-progress’, and will eventually make-up a portion of my thesis. It contains elements of words I have splurged here before. The paper is on, or about, The Thing, using the fictional figure as a way to explore possible contradictions inherent in (post)human ontology. This synopsis might clarify/muddy things up further: Coiled up as DNA or proliferating through digital communication networks, nucleotides and electrical on/off signals figure each other in a coding metaphor with no origin. Tracing the evolution of The Thing over its 70 year history in science-fiction (including John W. Campbell’s 1938 novella and John Carpenter’s 1982 film), this paper explores this figure’s most terrifying, absolute other quality: the inability of its matter to err. The Thing re-constitutes the contemporary information paradigm, leaving us with/as an Earthly nature that was always already posthuman. You can read the paper here, or download a PDF, print it out, and pin it up at your next horror/sci-fi/philosophy convention.

Fri, 19 Oct 2012 06:36:00 -0700
<![CDATA[Computer glitch may have led to Deep Blue's historic win over chess champ Kasparov | The Verge]]>

Earlier this year, IBM celebrated the 15-year anniversary of its supercomputer Deep Blue beating chess champion Garry Kasparov. According to a new book, however, it may have been an accidental glitch rather than computing firepower that gave Deep Blue the win. At the Washington Post, Brad Plumer high

Sat, 29 Sep 2012 07:09:00 -0700
<![CDATA[Artificially intelligent game bots pass the Turing test on Turing's centenary]]>

An artificially intelligent virtual gamer created by computer scientists at The University of Texas at Austin has won the BotPrize by convincing a panel of judges that it was more human-like than half the humans it competed against.

The competition was sponsored by 2K Games and was set inside the virtual world of "Unreal Tournament 2004," a first-person shooter video game. The winners were announced this month at the IEEE Conference on Computational Intelligence and Games. "The idea is to evaluate how we can make game bots, which are nonplayer characters (NPCs) controlled by AI algorithms, appear as human as possible," said Risto Miikkulainen, professor of computer science in the College of Natural Sciences. Miikkulainen created the bot, called the UT^2 game bot, with doctoral students Jacob Schrum and Igor Karpov.

Sat, 29 Sep 2012 04:28:00 -0700
<![CDATA[Lies, Damn Lies, and Twitter Bots]]>

I’m particularly interested in the political uses of technology-enabled deception—uses that I suspect are likely to become more prevalent in the near future.

Two of my rules for constructing useful and interesting scenarios are to (a) think about what happens when seemingly disparate changes smash together, and (b) imagine how new developments might be misused. In both cases, the goal is to uncover something unexpected, but (upon reflection) disturbingly plausible. I’d like to lay out for you the chain of connections that lead me to believe that we’re on the verge of something big.

Tue, 18 Sep 2012 06:18:00 -0700
<![CDATA[Binary Nomination]]>

‘An important feature of a learning machine is that its teacher will often be very largely ignorant of quite what is going on inside, although he may still be able to some extent to predict his pupil’s behaviour.’ Alan Turing, Computing Machinery and Intelligence (1950)

Replenishing each worn-out piece of its glimmering hull, one by one, the day arrives when the entire ship of Argo has been displaced – each of its parts now distinct from those of the ‘original’ vessel. For Roland Barthes, this myth exposes two modest activities:

Substitution (one part replaces another, as in a paradigm) Nomination (the name is in no way linked to the stability of the parts) 1

The discrete breaches the continuous in the act of nomination. Take for instance the spectrum of colours, the extension of which ‘is verbally reduced to a series of discontinuous terms’ 2 such as red, green, lilac or puce. Each colour has no cause but its name. By being isolated in language the colour ‘blue’ is allowed to exist, but its existence is an act of linguistic and, some would argue, perceptual severance. The city of Hull, the phrase “I will”, the surface of an ice cube and an image compression algorithm are entities each sustained by the same nominative disclosure: a paradox of things that seem to flow into one another with liquid potential, but things, nonetheless, limited by their constant, necessary re-iteration in language. There is no thing more contradictory in this regard than the human subject, a figure Barthes’ tried to paradoxically side-step in his playful autobiography. Like the ship of Argo, human experience has exchangeable parts, but at its core, such was Barthes’ intention, ‘the subject, unreconciled, demands that language represent the continuity of desire.’ 3

In an esoteric paper, published in 1930, Lewis Richardson teased out an analogy between flashes of human insight and the spark that leaps across a stop gap in an electrical circuit. The paper, entitled The Analogy Between Mental Images and Sparks, navigates around a provocative sketch stencilled into its pages of a simple indeterminate circuit, whose future state it is impossible to predict. Richardson’s playful label for the diagram hides a deep significance. For even at the simplest binary level, Richardson argued, computation need not necessarily be deterministic.

The discrete and the continuous are here again blurred by analogy. Electricity flowing and electricity not flowing: a binary imposition responsible for the entire history of information technology.


1 Roland Barthes, Roland Barthes (University of California Press, 1994), 46.

2 Roland Barthes, Elements of Semiology (Hill and Wang, 1977), 64.

3 Paul John Eakin, Touching the World: Reference in Autobiography (Princeton University Press, 1992), 16.

Thu, 19 Jul 2012 09:32:00 -0700
<![CDATA[The Great Pretender: Turing as a Philosopher of Imitation]]>

In proposing the imitation game as a stand-in for another definition of thought or intelligence, Turing does more than deliver a clever logical flourish that helps him creatively answer a very old question about what makes someone (or something) capable of thought. In fact, he really skirts the question of intelligence entirely, replacing it with the outcomes of thought--in this case, the ability to perform "being human" as convincingly and interestingly as a real human. To be intelligent is to act like a human rather than to have a mind that operates like one. Or, even better, intelligence--whatever it is, the thing that goes on inside a human or a machine--is less interesting and productive a topic of conversation than the effects of such a process, the experience it creates in observers and interlocutors.

This is a kind of pretense most readily found on stage and on screen. An actor's craft is best described in terms of its effect, the way he or she portrays a part, elicits emotion

Thu, 19 Jul 2012 08:20:00 -0700
<![CDATA[Computing Machinery and Intelligence (by Alan Turing)]]>

I propose to consider the question, "Can machines think?" This should begin with definitions of the meaning of the terms "machine" and "think." The definitions might be framed so as to reflect so far as possible the normal use of the words, but this attitude is dangerous, If the meaning of the words "machine" and "think" are to be found by examining how they are commonly used it is difficult to escape the conclusion that the meaning and the answer to the question, "Can machines think?" is to be sought in a statistical survey such as a Gallup poll. But this is absurd. Instead of attempting such a definition I shall replace the question by another, which is closely related to it and is expressed in relatively unambiguous words.

Mon, 31 Oct 2011 06:53:59 -0700
<![CDATA[Similarities - a set on Flickr]]>

The pairs of images in this "Similarities" set are similar visually in one way or another. They are presented without judgement as to the motives of their creators. The viewers of the pieces can form their own opinion(s) about what they see.

Some are "accidents": The creator of the similar piece had no knowledge of the original. Examples would be the 1982 Rafal Olbinski / New Pornographers posters and the Idea magazine cover / Okkervil River poster.

Some are "re-contextualized": Obscure imagery from long forgotten sources was used from vintage printed ephemera like 1940s and ’50s Popular Mechanics ads, matchbook covers, stamps, comic books, cook books, etc. giving them new life in a new form. An example would be the Czechoslovakian Matchbox Label and the Vibe Killers poster.

Wed, 02 Mar 2011 06:28:57 -0800
<![CDATA[Journalism in the Age of Data: A Film]]>

What bad writing has to do with war casualties and traffic over North America.

It’s no secret we have a data visualization fetish, but that’s not just because we like looking at pretty pictures; it’s because we believe the discipline is an important sensemaking mechanism for today’s data deluge, a new kind of journalism that helps frame the world and what matters in it in a visual, compelling, digestible way. Stanford’s Geoff McGhee, an online journalist specializing in multimedia and information design, tends to agree. His excellent Journalism in the Age of Data explores data visualization as a storytelling medium in an hour-long film highlighting some of the most important concepts, artists and projects in data visualization from the past few years.

Journalists are coping with the rising information flood by borrowing data visualization techniques from computer scientists, researchers and artists. Some newsrooms are already beginning to retool their staffs and systems to prepare fo

Thu, 30 Sep 2010 16:19:00 -0700
<![CDATA[On Seeing (an Imitation)]]>

by Daniel Rourke

“Mimesis here is not the representation of one thing by another, the relation of resemblance or of identification between two beings, the reproduction of a product of nature by a product of art. It is not the relation of two products but of two productions. And of two freedoms... 'True' mimesis is between two producing subjects and not between two produced things.”

Jacques Derrida, Economimesis

Enlarged pupil (an eye with iritis)
As the day drew closer to its end so I strained my eyes to compensate. A milieu of symbols littered my computer screen, each connected to a staccato breach between breath and tongue. And in conjunction, fused one to another in a series, these symbols formed words and concepts, visions and ideas to which I felt an obligation.

I was designing a book, turning a text into a form through the processes of a computer design interface. The semblance of a page confronted each turn of my wrist or tap of finger, until the virtual book lay splayed open, its central fissure dilating as the words grew bigger or shrank to barely perceptible pricks of black. By manipulating the interface I could expand letters until they inked out the screen, or, in turn, spiral to infinite distance, turning definite symbols into the pixels of a cloud.

This process of making occurred at a virtual distance to me and yet, as the nights rolled onwards, this work was limiting my ability to see.

The doctor examined my right eye. I had iritis, a strain of the pupil with no particular cause, except perhaps for its over-use: for one's over-reliance on its mechanical operation. Being that my right eye was the strongest of the two it had over-compensated at each dimming of the day, allowing my left eye to relax as the symbols of my book whirled on. The strain resulted in a blood-shot appearance accompanied by a searing, throbbing pain. It hurt to see, and even more so to look. It hurt because looking was its cause.

Standing at the base of the Southern tower I arced my neck back as far as I dare. As the horizon descended into my stomach I could just about perceive the towers' tallest corners, pinching at sky. How many coins did it take to build these things? And how many steps was I expected to ascend in order to get to the 'observation deck'?

In exchange for my tiny coin I fathomed a giant network called 'New York'. From up here everything was horizon: the imaginary boundary between earth and sky that moves in respect of one's position.

In 2001 the two towers tumbled. How profane their figures seem now. How could it be that these prisms, designed and built in the 1960s, opened and occupied in the 1970s, witness of boom in the 80s and bust in the 90s, would come to stand for all the tumult and turmoil, striving and hope of our newest century?

The precision of the prism – flat, grey surfaces observed in isometric space – will forever be bound to these charismatic towers built of steel, concrete and capital. That they now stand as symbols effaces their identity in time or in space. They will always be contemporary, so long as cities are built and planes soar the skies above them. Looking back at them it is now I that stand on the horizon. Yet, howsoever I alter my vision, the towers stay solid and fixed to their position, being at one and the same time the landscape, the illumination and the roving eye.

'Office Block With Twin' by Koizumi Meiro, 2006

Idiopathic is an adjective used primarily in medicine meaning arising spontaneously or from an obscure or unknown cause. From Greek ἴδιος, idios (one's own) + πάθος, pathos (suffering), it means approximately "a disease of its own kind."

extract from Wikipedia

In 2006 Koizumi Meiro tore pages from pornographic magazines. Over images composed of two erotically entwined women he painted tones of grey. The resulting collages speak of capture, of closure and the banal. They are severely a-erotic, displaying none of the titillation that their originary magazines wished upon their audience. The women's heads have been disembodied, or more precisely, have been relocated onto the bodies of twin prisms. Does Meiro's objectification of these women mirror the objectification they suffer under the guise of the erotic gaze? Perhaps. What draws me into the images though, and what emerges most strikingly as I look upon them, is a haunting sense of recognition. This simplified, perfect horizon, these strutting prisms of grey mirror the defining twin icons of our era. Captured, closed off and made banal to my mind by the passing of time, by their over admittance into the symbolic syntax of the new century.

My recognition is itself an imitation, such that seeing and looking are intertwined.

A focal point rushes to meet me, like a pupil contracting as the first band of sun breaches an ever distant imaginary line.

Cargo Cult

In the 1940s the Southwest Pacific Ocean became of fundamental strategic importance for both the Japanese and American forces. After establishing bases on a range of Melanesian and Micronesian islands the US Military settled into the routines of war.

To the native peoples of these islands the military presence signified a complete over-turning of the natural order. Within a few months the beaches and grasslands were transformed into encampments and runways, and as the war effort ensued the skies above must have seemed filled with the buzz of alien craft. The native people came to know American society through the exchange of commodities and the gestures of an unknown tongue. As planes soared overhead and countless ships descended over the horizon the islands became saturated with cargo of all kinds, from cans of coca cola to livestock the likeness of which the islanders had never seen.

Much has been written of the so called 'Cargo Cults' which later emerged on these islands. Strange rituals still carried out today seem to hark back to those informative years when Western civilisation first imposed itself on the native Micronesians. Islanders build imitation planes and runways from straw and dirt; act out military processions with bamboo guns slung over their shoulders. In order to bring back the abundance of cargo that used to land on their islands the native people appear to be imitating the conditions under which its arrival used to occur.

Ritual obtains a value at the meeting point between the thing imitated and the imitation. Ritual is action, but it is also object. It is natural because it is always a copy; repeated whilst never attaining perfect resemblance; repeated to bring into order the miasma of our visions.

With work there is always consequence, both intended and in excess. For the tribal communities of the cargo islands the dividing lines between nature and ritual, between alien technology and the routines of war must have seemed identical. A resemblance, a dividing line, that was worthy of imitation whether it brought cargo or not.

We cannot know what they saw. We can only imitate an idea of their seeing by analogy with the kind of seeing we consider in ourselves.

Upon the arrival of the American Military in the Southwestern Pacific there was a lot more to see than had been seen before.

“Why should we be at all interested in perceiving the obscurity that emanates from the epoch? Is darkness not precisely an anonymous experience that is by definition impenetrable; something that is not directed at us and thus cannot concern us? On the contrary, the contemporary is the person who perceives the darkness of his time as something that concerns him. Darkness is something that – more than any light – turns directly and singularly toward him. The contemporary is the one whose eyes are struck by the beam of darkness that comes from his own time.”

Giorgio Agamben, What is The Contemporary?

The eye-drops soothed the burning pain, but they also gave me chronic photo-phobia, such that stepping out into daylight was excruciating. I needed to let my eye rest, and this meant shutting off its ability to work. Whether the light was dim or bright, whether the object of my attention was near or far, the muscles around my pupil lay dormant. I considered the world through a pupil locked at its fullest expanse. The light gushed in.

In place of depth, of shade and colour, there now existed a miasma which my left eye alone could not navigate. The physical frames of everyday life were impossible to attenuate. It was as if upon being freed from the shallow glare of the computer screen I had stumbled into a space between signified and signifier. Everything was flattened to the status of an interface, but an interface that lead nowhere and manipulated nothing.

My book had been printed and bound. I could hold it in my hands, flick through its pages. In real space I could consider it, scanning its lines and paragraphs with my working eye. Wearing a make-shift eye patch or a pair of sun glasses I was able to avoid headaches and spatial confusion. But upon holding the very object whose making had rendered my right eye useless I was overcome with a different kind of dislocation.

Was this the book I had designed on my computer? It bore a resemblance, there was even a sense that my fingers had observed it before, the memory of its movements surfacing as I turned it over in my hands. But this sense did not transfer to the content of the book, to the meaning that emerged when words were read in conjunction, and pages, phrases, paragraphs and footnotes came to meet each other in endless variation. I recognised the words themselves, but I did not recognise from where they had come. I saw the book's space, time and content, yet I could not see its work.

Between seeing and looking which paradigm was closest to this work: the roving eye or the mind engaged in making?

by Daniel Rourke

“To go beyond is to communicate with ideas, to understand. Does not the function of art lie in not understanding?... Art does not know a particular type of reality; it contrasts with knowledge. It is the very event of obscuring, a descent of the night, an invasion of shadow.”

Emmanuel Levinas, Reality and Its Shadow

Sun, 24 Jan 2010 21:04:00 -0800