[texts]

Actually, We Found More Than One Pulse Sir... with Ed Keller

[04.2010]

Print Friendly Version
Share on twitter Share on delicious Permalink

A theoretical-fiction piece co-written with Ed Keller Alexandre Kojeve, decaying Modernism, misguided development fills the scene in Putin's Russia: Kojève, Ballard, California, Kazan, Deep Time, Cold War, Jet Lag Swine Flu, IT Park Urbanism, etc.

Published in Eric Goldemberg, ed. Pulsation in Architecture, J. Ross Publishing, 2011

----------------------

"Actually We Found More Than One Pulse, Sir..."
Benjamin H. Bratton and Ed Keller


author's photograph outside of the Kazan IT Park, Kazan, Tartarsatan, Russian Federation, 2010.

"These are the oldest memories on Earth, the time-codes carried in every chromosome and gene. Every step we've taken in our evolution is a milestone inscribed with organic memories- from the enzymes controlling the carbon dioxide cycle to the organization of the brachial plexus and the nerve pathways of the Pyramid cells in the mid-brain, each is a record of a thousand decisions taken in the face of a sudden physico-chemical crisis. Just as psychoanalysis reconstructs the original traumatic situation in order to release the repressed material, so we are now being plunged back into the archaeopsychic past, uncovering the ancient taboos and drives that have been dormant for epochs. The brief span of an individual life is misleading. Each one of us is as old as the entire biological kingdom, and our bloodstreams are tributaries of the great sea of its total memory. The uterine odyssey of the growing foetus recapitulates the entire evolutionary past, and its central nervous system is a coded time scale, each nexus of neurons and each spinal level marking a symbolic station, a unit of neuronic time." [1] It occurred to me only on the plane to London that Kezar, my ultimate destination, is the first city I have visited since I-can't-remember-when that I am incapable of visualizing in advance of arrival. Google image search is not much help. I wonder if this will mean that whatever it appears to be will by definition be a surprise, or by the same definition no surprise at all, as the unexpected requires the expected, and my expectations are largely blank. Kezar is where Lenin went to college, it is an Islamic city, mosques; a Russo-Asian city, tartars and mongols, and it is where the Putin machines have decided to locate Russia's attempt at manufacturing their 'Silicon Valley.' "There is no doubt that we are currently witnessing a decisive turning point in history, comparable to the one that took place at the end of the Middle Ages. The beginning of the modern age is characterized by the unstoppable process of the progressive elimination of 'feudal' political formations dividing the national units to the benefit of kingdoms, which is to say of nation-States. At present, it is these nation-States which, irresistibly, are gradually giving way to political formations which transgress national borders and which could be designated with the term 'Empires.' Nation-States, still powerful in the nineteenth century, are ceasing to be political realities, States in the strong sense of the term, just as the medieval baronies, cities, and archdioceses ceased to be States. The modern State, the current political reality, requires a larger foundation than that represented by Nations in the strict sense. To be politically viable, the modern State must rest on a 'vast "imperial" union of affiliated Nations.' The modern State is only truly a State-ifitisan Empire." [2] A remarkably cheerful pessimism seems to pervade J.G.Ballard's thought: he indeed had his finger, and mind, on the pulse of the world we knew in the 20th century. If [a reductio ad absurdum] he identified one key concept it might have been just this: that the very idea of 'taking a pulse' had to index all the factors outside the obvious, physical parameters of a system. And that a pulse, perforce, was temporal as well as physical. Much as Alexandre Kojève understood that meta-system stability catalyzed a kind of distillation of historical consciousness [or a quiet nullification of it], Ballard knew that the spheres of the neurophysiological, the biopolitical, the very temporalities of culture and technology, were in a tight series of feedback loops with each other. He was unafraid to speculate on the weird non-pulsed time landscapes- time for him inseparable from consciousness itself- that would result as humanity continued its headlong rush to fuse with the machinic, the elemental, the non-organic: with geo-, techno-, and cosmological systems. So the great problem we face today as designers and thinkers is the mapping of ever more complex, hidden systems of order. Cryptoform, if you will. That long standing project: to distinguish between explicit and implicit order, and stake a claim for one's work based on that articulation. Another longstanding question: whether larger systemic forms [political, economic, urban, technological, etc.] are capable of provoking some kind of historical consciousness, either in small groups or worldwide. A pale, monochrome anthropocentrism has ruled much of! the work debating these orders and 'pulses' of consciousness. Ballard and Kojève, each in their own manner, provide a dark antidote to this. There is a life in forms, and the work cut out for us can be understood as a crypto-xeno-morphic archeology of the future. Pulsation as a qualitative term is useful, if only as by its very definition it operates through temporal parameters and across fields. The IT Park is a key part of the Putin strategy to metamorph surplus capital from natural gas into technological capital and greater technological independence. The true face of digital communism: an incestuous multigenerational melange of family-run infrastructural monopolies. (...) (I)n Kezar, the Russians are trying as hard as they can to make their own 'version' to propel them as quickly as possible into league with the Koreas, Californias, Israels and Singapores of the world. To amplify capitalism and amplify it without losing the grip of the indigenous kleptocracy. Increasingly, epigenetic models escape the purely biological disciplines and provide deep insight into the way that all systems work. The coding of 'part to whole' behaviors takes place through a complex landscape of field interactions: local politics, global economies, resource wars, the desires of a culture, the popularity of a song or perfume. [How many fingers do you need to take that kind of pulse?] So begins a languid, sinister blooming... the blending of macroscopic, reversible dynamics! with microscopic, irreversible behaviors at other scales; and very different forms of temporality [and therefore, different forms of pulse] result from these more diffuse, constellated models. A much advanced pattern recognition and decryption form the processes, ultimately, by which we begin to decode the intensive deployment of systems of pure code across epiphenomenal fields. I have two hours to do nothing at all for the first time in weeks. For whatever reason, I think about Alexander Kojève. I wonder if my institute or Kezar's would even exist if not for his lectures on Hegel, and the twinned Left and Right radical versions of the 20th Century it spawned, triumphal and broken Historical catastrophes. William Gibson unpacks various geopolitical ramifications of this 'pattern recognition' process in his eponymous novel. And indeed, his doppelganger, Cayce, has a world class pattern intuition, which she employs in a search for... well, for a global media production system which aesthetically indexes a rapidly emerging 'noosphere', itself the byproduct of a post cold war hypercapitalist Russian landscape of turf battles and cheap media production company dynasties. This brings to mind Sanford Kwinter's investigations back in 1990, in his 'Landscapes of Change' piece for Assemblage: he combined a study of Boccioni's work with a general theory of models derived in part from Rene Thom's work on catastrophe theory and various aspects of information theory, Prigogine's dissipative structures, and a gloss on epigenetic theory as well. A morphological apologia that found it possible, even necessary to discuss group mind and emotion, urban form, system dynamics, painterly techniques, and advanced mathematical models in the same breath. Kwinter's attempt to synthesize these diverse fields was a strong force in the early 1990's and this job has something of the 'cool hunter' in it, but is much more intricate in process and result- to invoke a term [intricacy] that has recently been applied to the shapes of things with much popular effect. But the current use of the term intricacy pays little attention to the details: the microassemblies that make up form, if you will. In contrast to this reductionist approach, our eyes restlessly scan the surface of things, find places where intangibles leak, slip into the gap: a new Gonzo: with the right kind of eyes, one can look at the horizon [any horizon] and see the place where the wave is coming from; the future, the outside. Finding traces of the pulse. There's a crack in everything: that's how the rhythm gets in. Probably. Of course they would. These institutes may be big symptoms of the computational career of the Last Man, but they are created in complete ignorance of Kojève's dialectical thought as well as his offspring. Instead their pairing now is exactly the point of Kojève. I am unsure. I cannot help but think of the two, my IT park in La Jolla and their IT park in Tartarstan and the fact they we are somehow connected, and that I am connecting them now, in light of the two genealogies that spawned from this single Franco-Russo Hegelian and the fingerprints they have all over the last 80 years. "December 30, 2009 "Pulsing the system," "Pulsing it," Obama briefer says on Flight 253 scramble. That's the language used Tuesday by a senior Obama White House official to describe how the administration is scrambling to find out about the intelligence failures that led to a Nigerian suspected terrorist boarding Detroit bound Northwest Flight 253 with explosives in his underwear on Christmas Day." [3] Just as epigenetics increases its leverage as a model in the realms of bio-power, so too [finally] a post-thermodynamic model penetrates our thinking about space. "The body is an extraordinarily complex system that creates language from information and noise, with as many mediations as there are integrating levels, with as many changes in sign for the function which just occupied our attention. I know who the final observer is, the receiver at the chain's end: precisely he who utters language. But I do not know who the initial dispatcher is at the other end. I am confronted indefinitely with a black box, a box of boxes, and so forth. In this way, I may proceed as far as I wish, all the way to cells and molecules, as long, of course, as I change the object under observation. All I know, but of this I am certain, is that they are all structured around the information-background-noise couple, the chance-program couple or the entropy-negentropy couple. And this holds true whether I describe the system in terms of chemistry, physics, thermodynamics, or information theory..." [4] Older mechanical and superficially simplistic transcription models are replaced by deeply intensive, textured, patterned and!temporally complex models of system behaviors. Pulsation itself is a familiar spatial concept; but the technical means by which we manage the pulse, these computational protocols- they give us access to something else. Not new, but deeper. The tools to index pulsation have made it to the average user. The data streams which are the pulse are available for anyone plugged into the net to analyze and respond to. Scale out on any quantized [digital] signal / phenomenon: wave patterns emerge. The idea that fluid dynamics as a model might be appropriate to apply to the flow of people through a subway makes obvious sense but is crude. Elias Canetti's insights into crowd-mind have only just begun to percolate through Putin's team; perhaps thinking that emotions, ideas, sense and affect might well be modeled using some radically temporalized and intensive system was harder to popularize. In very recent years, though, design thinking has tried to go beyond the network model and its temporal limitations. A mechanism to overcome the limits of mechanism itself. 'Morphology, longevity, incept dates.' [5] "Since we are speculating on the pulse, and various domains across which it could cascade, it might seem to make sense to look to natural history and assess which animals have several hearts," he begins his drunken toast over horse meat. Presumably they would, indeed, have multiple pulses? But the lesson to be learned is that the pure mechanics of pumping are not really the site of the most interesting rhythms. Better, then to consider 'animals' with no obvious heart or pulse. {Two films, both on cable at the same time in my hotel allowing me to flip between them, Daybreakers and Syriana, can serve as case studies for us: they are powered respectively by two key pulsed/pulseless flows: blood and oil. In Daybreakers, the usual rule of the vampire tale has been inverted. Almost everyone is a vampire, and humans [whose hearts still beat] are a minority, largely remaining human only to be farmed for their blood or hunted down. The film is a thinly veiled allegory about the totalizing process of capital and consumption; and also a thinly veiled 'camp' romp through various genre tropes. That irony notwithstanding, it has a fabulous insight into the problem of the pulse: the plague which rendered all humans into vampires also stopped their hearts. And when they discover by chance how to reverse [cure] that plague- which had given them eternal life, but eternal thirst- their hearts jumpstart back into motion. They fall, if you will, back into irreversible time, but that 'fall' comes with an upside: they get their pulses back. It makes sense that the vampires in this allegory would be well heeled high design capitalists and scientists. They are trapped in the eternal present of exactly that spectacular culture where there is no future, simply because it is already included in the present: time flattened. Syriana, on the other hand, seems to traffic in relatively believable everyday stories: industrial corruption, state intrigue, counterterrorism, all driven by oil. Oil is less a flow with a pulse in Syriana, and more a kind of ubiquitous, aerated, colloidal suspension. Almost like blood. There's a little bit of it everywhere, and differential pressures in that atmosphere allow it to precipitate with varying effect across the landscapes and narratives it touches. In Daybreakers, fantasy beasts [vampires] lacked a pulse. Yet in Syriana, completely banal sites and situations are also driven by a system that lacks an obvious pulse. How can we map the 'heart' of Syriana? Certainly not with any kind of sphygmomanometer.} A pulsed time is always a territorialized time; regular or not, it's the number of the movement of the step that marks a territory: I cover [parcours] my territory! I can cover it in a thousand ways, not necessarily in a regular rhythm. Each time that I cover or haunt a territory, each time that I claim a territory as mine, I appropriate a pulsed time, or I beat [pulse] a time. [6] Kezar I am told is full of Mosques. I hear again and again that it is 'half European and half Asian,' (some 'mixed race' code I am not understanding?) and that it is an example of how Islam can and should be absorbed by the Russian Federation. A kind of anti-Chechnya. My host asks about Kojève, so I explain: "Alexandre Kojève was a Russian philosopher, most known for his seminars on Hegel at École Pratique des Hautes Études in the 1930's, which largely in their influence on the work of the seminar students and their colleagues, forever changed both the possibility of a Modern and Trans-Modern Hegel, but in this the role that history-as-a-figure-of- history would play in the projective management of universal states and universal societies that would and do cinch the Modern to what-it-gives-way-to, and the casting of the heroics of its emergent and resistant finalities. Kojève's students and collegial correspondents included Bataille, Lacan, Merleau-Ponty and through them Foucault, Derrida and their correspondent disestablishments of Marx and Structuralism, and on the right Carl Schmitt, Allan Bloom, Leo Strauss, with whom he developed long and productive correspondences, and through Bloom and Strauss to American neo-conservatives, from Fukuyama to Wolfowitz, and their unfortunate misapplications of a projective final, synthetic universality." "I have to show you this one building then," is his reply. What was the destiny of Vertov's dream, and his Kino-Eye agents who with their lightweight and nomadic film equipment would witness everything? Clearly Kino-Eye was capable of taking some kind of pulse, wildly deterritorialized and distributed across a fluid dynamics or thermodynamics of emotions or personal histories or infrastructure. If we transpose the dream of this Kino- Eye [montage itself capable of collapsing time and space] onto the contemporary technological landscape, we face a unique and new set of challenges. Mastery of the codec [compression/ decompression algorithm] now supplants the skills of the filmmaker and editor: various crypto-substrates that are directly and indirectly related to the codec become the field of operation. The world acquires the ability to communicate with itself [objects as spimes] and matter is increasingly networked. The codec is no longer limited to a chunk of media, a string of images, but the protocols for compression and encryption migrate across all domains, biological, social, military. The excessive logic of a horror film like The Ring becomes perversely realistic. Lateral genetic transfers emerge as a viable model, as our knowledge of the function of DNA deepens. Lamarckian inheritance resurfaces in biology as a [partially] realistic model: yet it has always been! a fine model for cities, architecture, culture, since buildings can inherit traits directly from their environments through building codes & aesthetic revolutions. The informational-genetic pulse, and the protocols which govern it [again, through encoding] become the key technical landscape across which information ecologies flicker, amplify, run amok: a building where technological innovation is housed. This idea is where it all goes wrong. The consensual obviousness that large scale technological development properly distributed among the people, particularly information computing technology, is the way forward for Governance is a zombie policy, walking a well-funded in economic and symbolic capital sort of quasi-death. I don't sleep all night. I move from more or less similar café spots in the airport eating overly sweet cakes and 7-up, organizing my hard drive, revising my presentation for whomever it is I will be giving my presentation to. Could be an auditorium of 500 dignitaries or at a hotel bar at 11PM to the Prime Minister's nephew. I prepare for both. I think about a word processor designed for our 400 megapixel display system, one which would allow an author to write and edit in 50,000 word chunks at a time. A 25 foot manuscript. Word processing probably ruined writing in some ways we don?t quite grasp, made the word into information and recombinancy a higher concern than nuance. Perhaps a mega-word processor such as mine would eradicate the Word as such altogether. The next conversation quickly turns to how to push IBM and the others out of the way, to leverage the credibility of an academic joint venture between my institute and the Kezar IT park to develop a more comprehensive digital strategy around the Hockey EuroCup which is the focal point for all infrastructural investment happening in the foreseeable future. The other 5 cities that were supposed to have IT parks basically spent all the money greasing the local clan and kleptocrats and built nothing. Kezar actually built theirs. He tells me about a company called NIGHT, former Mossad, who do embedded surveillance and data analysis for sensitive public locations such as the Eiffel Tower and the Statue of Liberty, and how anxious he is to bring them in for a pilot project. "What could we do with them," he asks. I decide not to give him my first thought on that. Later my contact and I stroll through the city looking at the new and old architecture. He shows me a wonderful but crumbling low-rise office complex from the 1930's that he says is his favorite building in the city. It turns out he and I have more in common than I'd originally thought. "This is that building," he says. I remember that when we landed in Moscow at 1AM we were delayed getting off the plane so that a large nurse could go up and down the aisle pointing a square metal gun-like instrument at each of us one by one that emitted some sort of directed green beam which sensed our ambient temperature. The Dutch woman next to me who spoke English said "swine flu." Everybody checked out OK. I tell them that the histories of California and Russia have been intertwined and that now it would be best for everyone if we designed what comes next together. I diplomatically insist that a program of strategic decentralization is the best strategy. That they have to put technology in the hands of the public, get out of the way and support things that are working. Central planning isn't going to work. Plan to not plan. This is true, but nobody has been able to decentralize Russian authority since the beginning of time so what I am suggesting is basically insane. Look at China. At the same time, we agree that IT has its own momentum that governments cannot control but only work with, that handheld media will be more important than desktop systems, that Russia is well positioned to leapfrog development if they are smart and willing, and that one thing central planning could do is buy a quarter million netbooks and give them away to kids. The best they can hope for is a fun ride as the global onslaught of phone based gaming/file sharing/pornography/ gambling becomes, by default, Tartarstan's IT development strategy. Maybe they know this perfectly well. That said it would be useless to explain the the agonistic and antagonistic ontology of the political, or why Google and Jihad are actually part of the same liquidification of territorial jurisdiction, so what the hell. What would the status of systems without a pulse be? Could they ever be 'alive'? Or, better to ask what the status of 'non-pulsed' time is. Draw a direct parallel between the negative aspects of non-pulsed systems [given louche, satirical form in that film, Daybreakers] and a kind of contemporary post-nation state/global capital system. Fredric Jameson thought through something like this in his The Crying of Lot 49, with its unrestrained superimpositions of entropy in physics, land development, narrative; ...Lot 49 is one of the gems in a genre of work that has tried, for countless years, to take the pulse of the 'walking dead' of a Californian capitalization of form. Optimistically though, we could speculate that much as for the characters in Daybreakers, there might be some re-animation possible if the domains of pulsed time and non-pulsed time could merge. A return to the a-metric. Aion plus Chronos equals mind? Ballard's observation was that this co-evolution with alien time was indeed real- but not in any way we would recognize as anything but tangentially human. So the challenge remains: to identify where "...time articulate[s] itself on an organized space...[and] constitutes an implantation of memory in a place that already forms an ensemble." [7] "...Roger Caillois in 'Mimicry and Legendary Psynasthenia' (1935) writes that... the literature on animal mimicry and organism metamorphosis made a fundamental mistake in presuming that mimicry as camouflage has any kind of universal explanatory power for all such phenomena.....! From the examples of the various biologists, it is also, he argues, certainly a mistake to presume that camouflage is even the aim of such mechanisms in nature. Caillois links some of the strange morphological habits of organisms to copy their surroundings to a kind of crisis in relation to space and identification." ---Jean Genet, writing on Caillois, taken from his notebooks for the Le Balcon, The Balcony, held at the Galerie Clement, London. [8]


Notes

1. Ballard, J. G., The Drowned World & The Wind From Nowhere, (Garden City: Doubleday & Co., 1965), p. 39

2. Kojève, Alexandre, 'Outline of a Doctrine of French Policy, The first English translation of the philosopher's 1945 memo', Policy Review, August/ September 2004, Hoover Institution, Stanford University: http://www.hoover.org/publications/policyreview/3436846.html

3. Lynn Sweet, columnist and the Washington Bureau Chief for the Chicago Sun-Times

4. Serres, Michel, 'The Origin of Language: Biology, Information Theory, & Thermodynamics', in Hermes: Literature, Science, Philosophy, ed. Josué V. Harari and David F. Bell (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1982)

5. Roy Batty, in Blade Runner, Ridley Scott [dir.], 1982

6. Deleuze, Gilles, Seminar On Music, 3 May 1977, translated by Timothy S. Murphy

7. deCerteau, Michel, The Practice of Everyday Life, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984), p. 86 8.  David Bate 2003


Alexandre Kojève

Tags: architecture, theory, technology, russia, end of the world, california, IT Park, Putin, Kojeve

Published: 11.01.2011

Print Friendly Version
Share on twitter Share on delicious Permalink