The Mind-Expanding Ideas of Andy Clark

The New Yorker finally got around to predictive processing with Larissa MacFarquhar’s profile of Andy Clark. Clark is the author of Surfing Uncertainty, the premier book on the subject.

Perception did not, then, simply work from the bottom up; it worked first from the top down. What you saw was not just a signal from the eye, say, but a combination of that signal and the brain’s own ideas about what it expected to see… Continue reading “The Mind-Expanding Ideas of Andy Clark”

New Fiction is Psychic Occupation

Fiction—or more generally, longform narrative text—has long been the handyman of society and culture, serving whatever functions are most needed at a historical moment. The Greek oral tradition, famously, functioned in part to preserve cultural histories and customs—hence the sprawling lists of names and figures, or lengthy descriptions of hospitality, in Homer. Arabic maqamas synthesized and preserved the collected wisdom of the medieval Iberian peninsula through proverbs and fables. Victorian novels provided an escapist entertainment for members of the aristocracy, while the Bible, Quran, and Mahābhārata operated as normative unifiers.

We no longer need literature to provide heavily plotted absorption: drug-like escapism, the loss of ego, more easily come from other mediums. Likewise, our encyclopedias, our etiquette guides, our microfiche handle our cultural historiography just fine. Television, film, non-fiction, and the Internet spent the 20th century eating away at literature’s territory, forcing the discipline to transform from generalist to specialist. The best literature of the modern day does what only literature can do—allow readers to squat and inhabit other minds, other worldviews, other consciousnesses. Continue reading “New Fiction is Psychic Occupation”

Art as the Antithesis of Design

From the footnotes of an upcoming piece examining predictive processing and Alva Nöe’s 2015 work on aesthetics, Strange Tools:

Nöe makes [his] argument through exclusion: art practices which are not interrogative, which do not challenge existing structures and practices are not, technically speaking, art. Pop songs, to Nöe, aren’t musical art, they’re a first-level human practice (or “organized activity”) called “song-making.” Choreography can be art, but “dancing” as practiced by amateurs and many professionals is an organized activity. Continue reading “Art as the Antithesis of Design”

On the Erotics of Intepretation

by Suspended Reason w/ James Wood

In Antonioni’s film L’eclisse, the luminous Monica Vitti visits the Rome stock exchange, where her fiance, played by Alain Delon, works. Delon points out a fat man who has just lost 50 million lire. Intrigued, she follows the man. He orders a drink at a bar, barely touches it, then goes to a cafe, where he orders an acqua minerale, which he again barely touches. He is writing something on a piece of paper, and leaves it on the table. We imagine that it must be a set of furious, melancholy figures. Vitti approaches the table, and sees that it is a drawing of a flower. Continue reading “On the Erotics of Intepretation”

Origins of “Future Nausea”

1966, Susan Sontag, “Anthropologist as Hero” in Against Interpretation:

“The felt unreliability of human experience brought about by the inhuman acceleration of historical change has led every sensitive modern mind to the recording of some kind of nausea, of intellectual vertigo.”

(also, 1999, William Gibson, No Maps for These Territories, 15:00 in:

“I think we all have these moments that are vertiginous and terribly exciting and very frightening in which we realize the contemporary absolutely, and I think it induces terror and ecstasy, and we retreat from it because we can’t stay in that state of panic.”)

Girls, Broad City, and Over-the-Topness

“By their power of intimate close-up, movies reveal the subtleties of facial expression and the ambiguities of mood and motivation.” (Paglia)

 

I recently re-watched Girls, and then off a recommendation, chased it with half a season of Broad City. The latter struck me as artless and also socially valueless in comparison with Dunham’s HBO series, and I’ve been trying to articulate why. Continue reading “Girls, Broad City, and Over-the-Topness”

Backgrounding Techniques in Cinema and Literature

“In his later works, Klee began to erase the lines that typically distinguish a painting’s foreground image from its background, and he populated this background with numerous other figures that enter into a viewer’s awareness to greater and lesser degrees. Thus Klee’s late works… paint the usually inconspicuous tension of emerging and withdrawing, the usually unnoticed opposition of foreground and background which allows painting to work.”

—Iain Thomson, “Notes to Heidegger’s Aesthetics”

Room 237 is a documentary covering fan theories that have surfaced around Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. Costume design, background posters, and the brand logos of pictured food items all receive thorough readings from the documentary’s featured fan theorists, who see each as a crucial clue to the movie’s “real” plot or theme. What struck me most, when watching Room 237, was how different, rather than similar, this world of film fan theory felt from literary interpretation. Continue reading “Backgrounding Techniques in Cinema and Literature”

Mental Imagery 1

Disclaimer: Most of the insights in this post have already been addressed by semiotics, and won’t strike anyone familiar with that discipline as novel. This is more just an attempt to reframe and re-analogize a process than to advance actual arguments.

Delving into the world of machine learning has me interested in encoding as an analogy for art processes. Consider, for instance, the mental image which so many readers generate in an encounter with a text. This translation from text to image is merely the inverse of what Samuel R. Delaney describes as his writerly process in The Jewel-Hinged Jaw: Notes on the Language of Science Fiction. Continue reading “Mental Imagery 1”