Monday, July 31, 2006
Script, Description, Inscription, or Transcription
Shifting Out, Shifting In
Program of Actions
Prescription; Proscription; Affordances; Allowances
Subscription or the Opposite, De-Inscription
Interface or Plugs
Redistributing Competences and Performances of Actors in a Setting
Scribe, Enscripter, Scripter, Desginer, or Author
AND (syntagmatic, association, alliances); OR (paradigmatic, substitution, translation)
Saturday, July 22, 2006
The suggestions can be literal. For example, the Nash Kelvinator ad (left) makes clear references to domestic living. The connection between the sighting a target through the bomsight and preserving American homes is all-too-palpable.
The implications are also figural. The second image (right), from Ha-milhamah le-shalom [Our war for peace], ed. Mahadurat Yediot Aharonot (Tel Aviv: Dekel, 1967) has more obvious political implications. In this instance, the sighting a target with a bombsight implies the protection and preservation of the still-young Israel.
Friday, July 21, 2006
And this notion of democracy is, in the words of Oliver Wendell Holmes, "the brooding omnipresence" that sifts through the pages of Making Things Public: Atmospheres of Democracy (2005). The book is literally hefty and figuratively weighty -- it is the monograph to an exhibition of the same name held at the ZKM (Zentrum fur Kunst und Medientechnologie) in Karlsruhe, Germany. It is a heroic compendium spanning a seemingly impossible breadth of thought: from political philosophy to history of science to digital art to speculative architecture.
But, as Latour states in the introduction to the work, the book/exhibit is about the creation of an object-oriented democracy. Latour realizes the incipient double-meaning of the word representation: it not only has a political aspect (elected officials represent the public) but an unmitigated sense of veracity or verisimilitude (this chart represents a summary of our findings). The former thus talks of a matter of fact, the latter talks of representation as a matter of concern.
And they key to Latour's object-oriented democracy rests in mending this schism between representation as matter of fact and representation as matter of concern. He thus advocates moving from a Realpolitik to a Dingpolitik -- literally, a politics of things, an investigation into the significance of the tangible thing. It is as if a thing -- a glass, a video game cartridge, a cookie, or radar screen -- becomes the prism through which the world refracts itself. Dingpolitik mandates a shifting of focus from objects to things. "Back to Things!" is Latour's clarion call:
...the objects of science and technology, the aisles of supermarkets, financial institutions, medical establishments, computer networks -- even the catwalks of fashion shows! --- offer poignant examples of hybrid forums and agoras, of the gatherings that have been eating away at the older realm of pure objects bathing in the clear light of the modernist gaze. Who could dream of a better example of hybrid forums than the scale models used by architects all over the world to assemble those able to build them at scale? Or the thin felt pen used by draughtsmen toimaginen new landscapes? When we say "Public matters!" or "Back to Things!" we are not trying to go back to the old materialism of Realpolitik, because matter itself is up for grabs as well. To be materialist now implies that one enters a labyrinth more intricate than that built by Daedalus (Latour, "From Realpolitik to Dingpolitik, or How to Make Things Public," in Making Things Public: Atmospheres of Democracy (MIT/ZKM, 200): 23-24.So here, a new, urgent klaxon demanding a reexamination of materialism and material culture. We only need to recall Wallace Stevens' elevation of the simple jar, the complex interweavings between subject, object, and context in "Anecdote of The Jar" (1923):
I placed a jar in Tennessee,
And round it was, upon a hill.
It made the slovenly wilderness
Surround that hill.
The wilderness rose up to it,
And sprawled around, no longer wild.
The jar was round upon the ground
And tall and of a port in air.
It took dominion every where.
The jar was gray and bare.
It did not give of bird or bush,
Like nothing else in Tennessee.
The thing is given urgency -- it is not only created, but it orders its surrounding space. In the words of critic Donald Guitierrez:
Being placed on top of a hill gives the jar an apex of human purpose through nature. But the jar asserts authority even more through the implied design of its own rotundity. It is the design of a created object embodying a human, cultural purpose. Further, the roundness is the symbolic design of purpose placed in nature, which in itself lacks purpose or order. The jar's roundness, exerting a centripetal force on the "slovenly wilderness," endows the wilderness (including the hill) with the order of a center. All the natural disorderliness of the wilderness acquires a purposive spatial character through "centering," and is given a figurative order in the way "rounded" and rounding human purpose shapes significance into the raw matter of earthly phenomena. Accordingly, human circularity, human centralization, civilizes "wilderness," not only the wild, that is, but chaos, nullity, meaninglessness, by providing it structure. This governing force is so powerful that even in its plainest, simplest representations ("grey and bare") the jar compels a "surrounding." "Circular Art: Round Poems of Wallace Stevens and William Carlos Williams." Concerning Poetry 14:1 (Spring 1981).
Philip K. Dick's alternate history masterpiece, The Man in The High Castle (1962) operates in the same realm as as Bruno Latour or a Wallace Stevens. The plot of the novel is familiar, only in that it has spawned similar alternate histories or science fictions: the United States has lost the Second World War; the Eastern seaboard is occupied by Germany, the West Coast by Japan, etc. As it turns out, several of the main characters in the novel traffic pre-World War II Americana, everything including Colt revolvers, Mickey Mouse Watches, Civil War-era Banknotes. These items are counterfeited, a fact that seems inconsequential. Consumers trade these high-priced items, and as long as someone can say that they are authentic, the market remains stable.
"To have no historicity, and also no artistic, esthetic worth, and yet to partake of some ethereal value -- that is a marvel. Just precisely because this is a miserable, small,worthlesss-looking blob; that, Robert, contributes to its possessing wu. For it is a fact that wu is customarily found in least imposing places, as in the Christian aphorism, 'stones rejected by the builder.' One experiences awareness of wu in such trash as an old stick, or a rusty beer can by the side of the road. However, in those cases, the wu is within the viewer. Here, an artificer has put wu into the object, rather than merely witnessed the wu inherent in it." He glanced up. "Am I making myself clear?"
"Yes," Childan said.
"In other words, an entire new world is pointed to, by this. The name for it is neither art, for it has no form, nor religion. What is it? I have pondered this pin unceasingly, yet cannotfathomm it. We evidently lack a word for an object like this. So you are right, Robert. It is authentically a new thing on the face of the world ... This subject carries authority which compels an abandonment of property, so great is the necessity of delivering theawarenesss itself." (1962: 176-77).As with Stevens' seemingly worthless Tennessee jar, Dick's wu-laden earring pin may also mark a transition from Realpolitik to Dingpolitik. The earring represents a literal and figural matter of concern.
Thursday, July 20, 2006
Leave it to the impossibly strange yet fantastically compelling historian of media technology Friedrich A. Kittler to describe what, in his opinion, was the most mediated technology ever: the Jumbo Jet. In "Gramophone, Film, Typewriter" October 41 (Summer 1987): 101-118, which is perhaps either an encapsulation or segment from his book of the same title, Kittler attempts to write a history of technology, a history that is not authored by people, but by the technologies themselves.
Musing about commerical aviation, Kittler writes:
But right now there are still media; there is still entertainment. One is informed -- mainly, unfortunately, thanks to jumbo jets. In the jumbo jet, media are more densely connected than in most places. They remain separate, however, according to their technological standard, frequency, user allocation, and interface. The crew is connected to radar screens, diode displays, radio beacons, and nonpublic channels. The crew members have deserved their professional earphones. Their replacement by computers is only a question of time. But the passengers can benefit only from yesterday's technology and are entertained by a canned media mixture. With the exception of books, that ancient medium which needs so much light, all the entertainment techniques are represented. The passengers' ears are listlessly hooked up to one-way earphones, which are themselves hooked up to tape recorders and thereby to the record industry. their eyes are glued to Hollywood movies, which in turn must be connected to the advertising budget of the airline industry -- otherwise they would not so regularly begin with takeoffs and landings. Not to mention the technological medium of the food industry to wchich the mouths of passengers are connected. A multi-media embryonic sack supplied through channels or navels that all serve the purpose of screening out the real background: noise, night, and the cold of an unliveable outside. Against that there is muzak, movies, and microwave cuisine.
Wednesday, July 19, 2006
Did anyone catch the latest epsidoe of Megastructures on the National Geographic Channel, the one about the Port of Rotterdam? Well, before this post divulges one of the many goodies about this particular episode, the port is something to behold. According the the Port of Rotterdam, 370 million tons of goods moved through the North Sea port in 2005. Furthermore,
The port of Rotterdam stretches out for 40 kilometers along the Nieuwe Waterweg canal (also see the Port map). The port and industrial area covers 10,500 hectares. Around 30,000 seagoing vessels and 130,000 inland vessels call at the port each year. Rotterdam is a port of call for around 500 shipping lines that maintain regular services to about 1,000 other ports. Rotterdam is Europe's most important port for oil & chemicals, containers, iron ore, coal, food and metals.
And another thing, the entrance to the port is 78 feet deep. Ornidarily, this would not present any problems to the world's container fleet. But it does present a problem to one specific vessel, the Norwegian container vessel, the MS Berge Stahl.
The Berge Stahl is a monster of a vessel. Besides being about 375 yards in length, it is also has one of the deepest draughts imaginable for a vessel: 75 feet. And only two ports in the world are capable of handling such a giant vessel: the Europort at Rotterdam and the Terminal Maritimo de Ponta da Madeira, in Itaqui, Maranhao, Brazil. When ever the Berge Stahl enters either of these ports, the repsective harbormasters deploy a fleet of dredgers, large ships that literally suck the ocean bottom into their hulls, thereby creating a deeper channel for larger ships.
A great recent posting from Pruned shows these dredging vessels in action. The majority of these vessels are owned by either Van Ord, Boskalis, Jan de Nul Group, and Dredging International, all Dutch or Belgian (read: experts in North Sea reclamation). Two of the largest trailer suction hopper dredgers (or TSHD) are Jan de Nul Group's Vasco da Gama and Boskalis' WD Fairway. Combined, these two vessels have the ability to displace a total volume of about 69,000 cubic meters.
From Radio Open Source.
Sunday, July 16, 2006
Much has been written about the role of the Office of Scientific Research and Development (OSRD) as well as the National Defense Research Committee (NDRC) during the Second World War. One of the NRDC's most famous ventures was the establishment of the MIT Radiation Laboratory (or RadLab) in October 1940. Under the tutelage of Lee A. DuBridge, RadLab scientists engaged in various experiments concerning signal processing, as well as for the design and implementation of radar systems. A spinoff of this research, the Research Laboratory for Electronics, became known for sponsoring Norbert Wiener's experiments on control and communication, the subject of his most famous book, Cybernetics.
At the end of World War II, the RadLab published the 28-volume MIT Radiation Laboratory Series (1947-1953). Perhaps the most famous book to come out of the series (and known for being a predecessor to Wiener's Cybernetics) is Hubert M. James, Nathaniel Nichols', and Ralph Phillips' Theory of Servomechanisms (1947). However, for those of use who are more aviation-inclined, Willoughby Cady's, Michael Karelitz', and Louis Turner's Radar Scanners and Radomes (1948), is interesting.
As the image from Cady's book at the top of this post shows, radar systems were first conceived as a way to locate a target on the enemy lanscape. A conical high-frequency beacon emanates at an angle from the aircraft's fuselage, allowing radar operators to detect what was on the ground. The U.S. Army Air Force's principal radar systems were the AN/APQ and AN/APS-7 (or "Eagle").
The AN/APQ series were classified as BTO (“Bombing Through Overcast”) systems that enabled bombardiers to drop bombs through dense cloud cover or under cover of night at high altitudes. A 1945 edition of the Radar Observers’ Bombardment Information File (ROBIF) describes the AN/APQ and AN/APS series’ function, giving a classic description of how radar operates:
In brief, the system functions as follows: A train of extremely short but intense pulses of radio-frequency energy is transmitted in a beam from a rotating antenna. An object in the path of the beam reflects some of the energy, and the transmitting antenna intercepts a portion of this reflected energy. The received pulses, or echoes, are detected and amplified on the plan position indicator (PPI scope), where you can determine both the distance to, and the bearing of, the object.
The AN/APS-7 (or “Eagle”) radar was used in conjunction with a Norden M-9 Bombsight for even increased accuracy. The Eagle’s rangefinder system was electronically attached to the Norden Bombsight’s viewfinder, in essence creating a system where the radar system would automatically input standard bombsight range and drift data. The bombardier was essentially demoted. Instead of being the custodian of an awesome weapon, he became a static “radar observer.” The combined Eagle-Norden system, renamed as the Norden Optical Sight Modification system, or NOSMO, would allow accurate bombing from 30,000 to 35,000 feet. Although Norden bombsights were still used for daylight and clear weather missions, NOSMO would eventually be scrapped in favor of wholly electronic systems.
Friday, July 14, 2006
When RCMP scouts first discovered the old hut by the Thelon, at first they did not notice the bodies. They entered in and noticed a handwritten note affixed to the stove, with four words written in a desperate, almost childish scrawl:
Who ... Look ... In ... Stove
Inside the stove was Edgar Christian's logbook, which presented a day-to-day account of the deadly winter of 1927. There have been different accounts of the story, all suggesting a tragic scene. On the morning of June 1, 1927, Edgar Christian finished his last diary entry, and placed it alongside a note to his mother and father in the ashes of the stove. After writing the note asking whoever discovered their remains to look inside the stove, he crawled inside his red Hudson Bay's blanket and died. Edgar Christian's last diary entry is cryptic, yet somewhat telling:
9 a.m. Weaker than ever. Have eaten all I can. Have food on hand but heart peatering? Sunshine is bright now. See if that does any good to me if I get out and bring in wood to make fire.
Make preparations now.Got out, too weak and all in now. Left things late.
Christian began writing these daily entries in October 1926, before he embarked on the trek with Hornby and Allard. His clipped, pithy style is matter-of-fact, as if he were protecting future readers from the grisly details of starvation. Death was a lonely and personal business, and he only wanted to present a bare minimum of details. Christian also depicts the barren, frozen steppes of the upper Northwest Territories, where gale-force winds and winter temperatures averaging somewhere south of -20 degrees Fahrenheit made exploration a hazardous business indeed. The Thelon River area that Hornby, Allard, and Christian explored in 1926 and 1927 was then terra incognita. Hornby made regular visits to the area, and his growing love for the fecund yet bare Thelon area no doubt inspired Allard and Christian to go along on this last, deadly jaunt.
One morning, almost 50 years later, a group of American and Canadian campers were pitching tents at Warden's Grove, near the Thelon River. Newspaper accounts indicate that Gary Anderson, 30, of Rock Island, Ill.; Chris Norment, 26, of Las Vegas; Kurt Mitchell, 28, of Jackson, Wyo.; John Mordhorst, 28, of Rock Island; Michael Mobley, 26, of Mesa, Ariz., and Robert Common, 33, of St. Anne de Bellevue, Canada were keen outdoorsmen, sharing John Hornby's love for the Thelon wilderness, and recreating the explorer's last, and most famous expedition.
On the morning of January 24, 1978, one of these men noticed a white blazing object streaking across the sky, spewing fiery bits in its wake. Mobley and Mordhorst ventured to the impact site, and on the way, noticed smoldering pieces of metal wreckage. These, however, were actually parts of wreckage from COSMOS 954, a Soviet Radar Ocean Reconnaissance Satellite (RORSAT). COSMOS 954 had a relatively short life span. Launched on September 18, 1977 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhistan, COSMOS 954 featured the latest in Soviet nuclear reactor technology: a Romashka-type reactor carrying a Uranium-235 core. The satellite was designed to monitor naval activity in the Pacific and Indian Oceans, and in January 1978, reports began to surface that COSMOS 954's orbit was beginning to decay. And to make matters worse, the Soviet Space Agency was unable to jettison the satellite's reactor core due to a mechanical malfunction.
During a brief diplomatic spat between the U.S. and Soviet governments, it had been generally accepted that COSMOS 954 would reenter the Earth's atmosphere with it reactor core. This would be an unprecedented type of nuclear disaster -- an airborne, upper-atmospheric release of radioactive debris. There was even speculation that the satellite would crash in India. But it wasn't until January 24th that anyone had any inclination as to where COSMOS 954 would crash. Early that morning, the satellite entered the Earth's atmosphere somewhere over the Queen Charlotte Islands (north of Vancouver), and tumbled in a northeastern direction across Great Slave Lake, Fort Resolution, Yellowknife, Fort Reliance, and finally towards Baker Lake.
After the Soviet government admitted that COSMOS 954 indeed had a nuclear reactor on board, a cleanup operation was commenced by the U.S. and Canadian. Dubbed Operation Morning Light, the cleanup effort not only involved the on-site recovery of radioactive debris, but also utilized spectrometer-equipped Royal Canadian Air Force as well as high-altitude missions by U2 spyplanes.
The clean up effort ended in April 1978. By that time, crews assigned to Operation Morning Light surveyed over 124,000 square kilometers and logged over 4500 hours of flying time, all in search for pieces of the doomed COSMOS 954. In the end, it was determined that the Romashka reactor and its contents burned up in the atmosphere, and that the pieces strewn along the hoarfrost posed very little danger. The most radiologically intense piece, about the size of a nickel, was found on February 23 and appropriately sent to the Whiteshell Nuclear Research Establishment in Pinawa, Manitoba.
What strikes me as interesting about these two narratives is how they both end in the same location. Also, the very first piece of wreckage found by the American and Canadian campers in 1978, with two bent metal rods splaying out in opposite directions, even looked like a pair of Caribou antlers that John Hornsby would have loved to have seen in the deadly winter of 1927-1928. The newspaper accounts even describe them as "antlers." And finally, the satellite crash, how it must have looked like a falling star on that cold January morning, and the terrible, sad ending to Edgar Christian's Thelon adventure ... it reminds me of the last lines of W.H. Auden's "Musee des Beaux Arts"(1940):
In Brueghel's Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.
Thursday, July 13, 2006
Vladimir Nabokov's bloated masterpiece, Ada or Ardor: A Family Chronicle (1969) opens with an amazing cartographic conceit. The various cities, geographical regions are an offbeat mix of the Russian and North American. For example, "Canady" is the country that borders the United States. Nabokov has even invented the state of "New Cheshire" -- according to Brian Boyd's meticulous annotations to the Vintage Edition of the novel:
... since the New England state of New Hampshire echoes the English county of Hampshire, and New York the English city and county of York, since American names in fact were frequently duplicated "across the ha-ha of a doubled ocean" (18.01), Nabokov invents the state of New Cheshire, in honor of the English county of Cheshire but perhaps also, with a grin at Lewis Carroll's Cheshire Cat, in honor of New York's Catskill Mountains (cf. Appel, Ada 167). There is also a Cheshire County in New Hampshire, less than fifteen miles from West Wardsboro, Vermont, where Nabokov spent two summers (1940 and 1942).
The imaginary therefore is rooted on the personal. But the imaginary is also historical. Take Nabokov's invocation of the Durmanov clan's origins in New Estoty. According to Boyd: