i want to spend the rest of my life everywhere, with everyone, one to one, always, forever, now.

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September, 2010 Monthly archive

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Men in Space
by Tom McCarthy

(from the GuardianUK)

Tom McCarthy’s second novel is an inspired shift from the cold, unidentified narrator’s voice that was central to the success of Remainder, his startling debut of last year. In Men in Space we are treated to a cacophony of voices, accents, languages and dialogue in myriad forms. It is a novel that practically rattles with noise. Just like his debut, though, it is a studied novel of ideas that is unlike many others we might read this year.

Men in Space follows a gaggle of characters set adrift within a fragmenting world: a stranded cosmonaut who has no country to come back to, a misguided football referee who has lost all perspective, an unsettled police agent, self-indulgent drifters seeking authenticity, political refugees and Western hangers-on who just don’t seem to grasp what is happening on the streets around them.

Each of these characters revolves around a stolen Byzantine painting that the mafia have paid the perfectionist Ivan Manasek to make an identical copy of in a bid to smuggle the original out of the country.

Although set in Prague following the fall of communism in central and eastern Europe this is not a historical novel. These events merely serve as a backdrop against which to play out a more classical pattern of disintegration and failed transcendence, a failure repeated through all time: a kind of Beckettian ‘present’ of being in the world and heading out of it.

Embedded in this narrative is the image of the stranded cosmonaut silently orbiting above, as politicians debate just who should bring him back down now that the Soviet Union no longer exists. To those below, especially at the parties and gatherings at artists’ cheap-rent ateliers in Prague, he is a jovial point of discussion, a joke to be laughed at and a symbol of an occupying nation’s collapse. But to the reader he is a symbol of all those adrift, floating and unable to get back where they belong and participate in the changing, fragmenting world around them. He is also a reminder that no matter what people were thinking during the fall of communism, there would be no real ‘lift off’ into a new Europe.

Just like the Zographs’ paintings of Byzantine saints reproduced again and again across Europe (and those of the Backovo masters, responsible for the original stolen painting central to this novel), Men in Space is intended to be read for its own coded messages. Each Byzantine painting delivers a series of symbols in one ‘continuous style that enables them to represent several moments of a story on a single panel’. It is no surprise that such ciphers can be found in the stolen Byzantine painting central to Men in Space and each of its orbiting characters. Like any great painting, Men in Space is a novel that invites the reader in, closer and closer, until each delicate stroke of McCarthy’s coded brush is revealed.

Tom McCarthy leads the reader to a repeating series of ellipses that neither confirm nor deny; a feeling that humanity has been abandoned, and will be abandoned again and again. There is no ‘divine mystery’ to ascend towards, just a ‘kind of Bermuda triangle'; a point of no return; an eternal repeating nothingness. McCarthy is fast revealing himself as a master craftsman who is steering the contemporary novel towards exciting territories. In unravelling the defining minutiae of an event in history, he manages to reveal to us the widening disintegration of our own present.

Previously: excess matter

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Previously: what we do on our holidays…

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ENJOY ONLY 2 COSMETICS, enough sleep & Dr. Bronner’s ‘Magic Soap’ to clean body-mind-soul-spirit instantly uniting One! All-One! Absolute cleanliness is Godliness! For facial packs, scalp & soothing body rub, add dash on bath towel in sink of hot water. Wring out. Lay over face & scalp. Massage with fingertips. Repeat 3 or 4 times ’til arms, legs and all are rubbed, always towards the heart. Rinse towel in plain hot water and massage again. Breathe deeply! Health is Wealth. Within 9 min. you feel fresh, and clean, saving 90% of your hot water & soap, ready to help teach the whole Human race the Moral ABC of All-One-God-Faith! For we’re All-One or none! ALL-ONE! ALL-ONE! ALL-ONE! TO SIMPLIFY & ENJOY LIFE MORE, DILUTE 1/2 OZ. OR 2 SQUIRTS OF THIS PURE CASTILE SOAP WITH 2 GALLONS OR SINKFUL HOT WATER, THEN TOWEL MASSAGE, A FACIAL PACK, THEN WRING TOWEL OUT & FINGERTIP MASSAGE YOUR HAIR & SCALP. ENJQY THE CREAMY EMOLLIENT LATHER ON BABY, BATH, BEACH, BODY, DENTURES, DEODORANT, SHAVING, AFTERSHAVE-SILK-WOOL-PETS-DIAPERS-CAR-HAND AND FOOT SOAP. Thank God we don’t descend down from perfect Adam’& Eve to sinful sinner, Brother’s Keeper, divided slave! United, hardworking-trained-brave, from dust we ascend up! Thank God for that! Our Brother’s Teacher of the Moral ABC mason Hillel taught carpenter Jesus to unite all mankind free! If you can keep your head when all around you are losing theirs and blaming it on you! If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you, and yet make allowance for their doubting too! If you can wait and not be tired by waiting or being lied about, don’t deal in lies! 0r being hated, don’t give way to hating, and yet don’t look too good nor talk too wise! if you can dream and not make dreams your master! If you can think and not make thoughts your aim! If you can meet with triumph or disaster and treat those two imposters just the same! If you can bear to hear the full-truth you have spoken twisted by crooks to make a trap for fools! Or watch the things that you have given your life to broken, and stoop to build them up again with worn out tools! If you can make one heap of all your winnings and risk it at one turn of pitch or toss! And lose and start again at your beginnings and never breathe a word about your loss! If you can force your heart, your nerve, your sinew, to serve you long after they are gone! And so hold on although there is nothing left within you except that voice that says to them “Hold on! Hold on!” If you can talk to crowds and keep your virtue, or walk with kings and not lose that common touch! If neither loving friend nor enemy can hurl you; it all men count with you, but none too much! If you can work hard to teach each unforgiving minute the Moral ABC, mason Hillel taught carpenter Jesus to unite all mankind free, come hell, hate, ban, you’ll enjoy God’s spaceship Earth & do great work within it, L which is more my son, you’ll be man! A man! Sure, East is East and West is West and never the twain shall meet! But there is neither East nor West, nor border, breed nor birth, once the Moral ABC unites all mankind free on God’s spaceship Earth! Then & only then, no matter how rough the trip, how charged the scroll, you are the captain of thy ship, the master of thy soul! These are the days my friend, we know they’ll never end! We’ll work, sing, dance, love, marching on! Marching on! We live God s law today! We win Free speech OK! With full-truth, our only God, we rally, raise, unite the whole human race, lightning-like, in our Eternal Father’s great All-One4od-Faith! As teaches the African astronomer Israel since the year One: “Listen Children Eternal Father Eternal One!’ “Exceptions eternally? Absolute none!”

To dream the impossible dream! To reach that unreachable star! 41 AII-One, All-One we are! To fight that unbeatable foe! To go where the brave dare not go! To right the unrightable wrong! To love pure, chaste, from afar! To try when your arms are too weary! ‘Til All- One, AII4ne we are! For this is my goal! To reach that unreachable star. No matter how hopeless, no matter how far! To fight for the right without question or pause, to be willing to march into hell for a heavenly cause! For I know that if I follow this glorious quest, my heart will lie peaceful & calm when I’m laid to my rest! And I know that the world will be better for this, that one man, tortured, blinded, covered with scars, still strove with his last ounce of courage, to reach that unreachable star ’til united All-one, All-one we are!

A fire, a mist, a planet, a crystal & a cell; a jellyfish, a dinosaur, caves where cavemen dwell! Then, a sense for work-love-song-art-law-play-beauty, a face turned up from the sod! Sure, it’s constructive-evolution, guided by One, ever-recreating God! One almighty, all-embracing, ever-loving, everevolving Eternal Father, guiding all mankind up from dust, driven by hungers, half-true hate, up by hard work, full-truth, great love, song speech-&-Profitsharing State, up into the Kingdom. the dictatorship of God’s law uniting All-One-God-Faith; “Listen Children Eternal Father Eternal One!” Exceptions? None! Thank God we don’t descend down from perfect Adam & Eve to sinful sinner. Brother’s Keeper, divided slave! United-brave, from dust we ascend up! Thank God for that! Our Brother’s Teacher of the Moral ABC, Hillel taught Jesus to unite all mankind tree: 1st: perfect thyself! 2nd; work brave! 3rd: unite to help leach all, every slave, the Moral ABC, lightning1ike 6 billion strong g we’re All-One, as astronomer Israel teaches ‘ Listen Children Eternal Father Eternal One!’ Exceptions? None!

Einstein, 1939, after Nazis & Commis united, proposed Bombs that destroy all, unless we teach lightning-like the whole Human race the Moral ABC uniting All-One-God-Faith! For we’re All-One or none! As teach all astronomers since the Year One, Abraham-lsrael-Moses-Buddha-Hillel-Jesus, Spinoza-Paine, Sagan & Mohammed, inspired every 76 years, for 6000 years, by the Messenger of God’s Law, the Messiah, Halley’s Comet, the Blazing Star of Abraham-David-Buddha-Bethlehem & Mohammed! Free Speech is man’s only weapon against half-truths that enslave! Full-truth, our only God, unites all brave, if 10 men guard Free Speech brave!!

Berlin Rabbi Baeck, Einstein Rabbis Buber – Israel – Levey – Liebman & after 66 million Marxist murders, tortured-blinded, soapmaker Bronner found: “The mark of the mature man is his ability to work brave, teaching all, every slave, African astronomer Israel’s 6000 yr. great All-One-God-Faith: Listen Children E1emal Father Eternal One! We’re All-One or none!” Berlin Rabbi Baeck; teaching how united only we survive, survive!

1st: If I’m not for me, who am I? Nobody! 2nd: yet, if I’m only for me, what am I? Nothing! 3rd: If not now, when? Once more: Unless constructive-selfish I work hard, like Mark Spitz, perfecting first me, absolute nothing can help perfect me!!
4>: Only hard work can save us, but if we teach only our clan? We’re all hated then! So, we must teach friend & enemy, the whole Human race, the full-truth, hard-work, free speech, press-&-profitsharing Moral ABC’s All-One-God-faith, lightning-like, 6 billion strong, for we’re All-One or none! All-One-God-Faith, as teach the African shepherd-astronomers Abraham & Israel, for 6000-years, since the year 1: ‘Listen Children Eternal Father Eternal One!”-We’re One! All-One!

11th: Essene & Chinese birth controls must reduce birth or Easter Isle type overpopulation destroys God’s Spaceship Earth! God’s law prevents all conception below pH3. Therefore, Essene contracepted for 400 years with rosehips, pH2! So, absolute clean, apply vaseline, oil, butter or cream, insert teaspoonful juicy lemon pulp, pH2. O.K.! Next day, douche with qt. soapy water, pH8, restoring pH5 balance God made! Eggwhite is pH9, Dr. Bronner’s Soap, pH8, guaranteed the mildest made; below pH8 soaps biodegrade, synthetic-sulfides cannot. At conception, 10 grams contain 100 million humans! or… 10 humans in 1 invisible microgram – smaller than dust! Absolute cleanliness is Godliness! Then, who else but God gave man Love that can spark mere dust to life! The Moral ABC, uniting All One, brave, all life. Who else but God! Who else! (see Eucalyptus-Peppermint & SalSuds qts.)

Love is like a willful bird, do you want it? It flies away! Yet, when you least expect its bliss, it turns around l it’s here to stay! For centuries man struggles, half-asleep, half-living! Small, jealous, bickering with mountains of red tape! To be awakened the night God choose giving His great reward for hard work, the Moral ABC-unity-ecstasy-love evolving man above the ape! The Moral ABC – unity-love evolving man above! Coincidentally L yet Oh-so-slow, sweet-kisses-whisper-softly into waiting ears; arousing hha4enly flames that enlighten renew, brilliant fires blazing through dark, lonesome years! Who else but God gave man this sensuous passion!

Passions that quicken your senses, fulfill; quench the thirst of lonesome years! Yet the sun has shadows, learn to control your will; to enjoy life long happiness, not tears! Wait! Rise to the stars above & thrill! Arouse the very flames of life! Sweetheart, kiss me: Hold still, hold still! Listen to God’s reward for strife! Rosebuds, slowly woken, break budding open! delicate, sweet, so on soft fingertips; shivering up your spine, red pulsing blood; in lightning speed through your pure body’s lips! Caressing deep, searching, way out of sight; oh beautiful spirit of God’s eternal Spring! Heat of passion in a warm moonlit night! Ecstasy to be buried in heaven, within! Relaxed then to long, dreamless sleep; body & soul join close in life’s most brilliant bliss! Revealing clarity4eauty-harmony-peace, sailing on far away sun-laden ships! Yet-what-cunninq-feminine-touch, can draw new desire to pulsing lips! When-soft-hands wander-casually-such, deftly down near lingering tips! Who else but God gave man Love that can spark mere dust to life, the Moral ABC uniting All-One, brave, all life.

Like a beacon breaking through dark clouds that pass; your deep embrace, your sensuous kiss, who else but God can make Love last 1 trillion years of sweet eternities! Who else but God! We are not true, while calculated calm controls us; blood flows near spirit in cold divided flame! Only love’s stormy passion, striking deep within us; can turn blood to spirit $ spirit to blood, untamed! Spirit to blood, untamed!

Arctic White Owl, has babies only when there is 9 months food supplied to survive! Beavers, by teamwork family life! Bees drop 3% drones from hive! Cleopatra’s Teacher of Love, the ABC of Mama Cat, teaches: 1st: Absolute cleanliness is Godliness! 2nd: Constructive-selfish hard work save home-food-young! 3rd: Absolute teamwork fertilizes God’s Earth! 4th: Absolute harmony with God’s timing, easy Birth! 5th: Mother’s love-discipline, joy, praise! 6th: Father’s stern-discipline, off titties when raised! 7th: Hard Work; self-discipline, brave! 8th: God’s Eternal Discipline, save! 9th: Nine lives, self-reliant, brave! 10th: Dignity, ‘beauty, relaxation, fun! 11th: Tenacity gets it done! 12th: Perfect sense of direction, ESP! 13th: Free, brave! No slave! Mama Cat’s ABC of Love & the inspiring Swallow’s Song uniting ALL-ONE! ABOVE! ABOVE! DILUTE ENJOY 1 SQAP FOR 18 DIFFERENT USES! GUARANTEED PURE POTASSIUM CASTILE SOAP & 10% VEGETARIAN: SUPERMILD CASTILE HAS OUTSTANDING WATER SOFTENING & CLEANSING POWERS. PREFERABLE TO HARSH SOAP & DEFATTENING SYNTHETICS. IT DOES NOT CUT DIRT, BUT DISSOLVES IT. IT IS THE MILDEST, MOST PLEASANT SOAP YOU EVER USED OR MONEY BACK! ENJOY BODY RUB TO STIMULATE BODY MIND-SOUL-SPIRIT AND TEACH THE ESSENE MORAL ABC UNITING ALL FREE IN THE SHEPHERD-ISRAEL’S GREAT ALL-ONE-G0D-FAITH! GET $3 ESSENE SCROLLS!
“The 2nd Coming of God’s Law!”-Mohammed’s Arabs, 1948, found Israel: Essene Scrolls & Einstein’s “Hillel” prove that as no 6-year-old can grow up free without the ABC, so certain can no 12-year-old survive free without the Moral ABC mason, tent & sandalmaker Rabbi Hillel taught carpenter Jesus to unite all mankind free in our Eternal Father’s great AII-One-God-Faith! For we’re All-One or none: “Listen Children Eternal Father Eternally One!”
>From ’29 to ’44, soapmaker-master-chemist Bronner built 3 American soap plants, trained 9 chemists, licensed 6 of 53 patents for $60,000! But after ’44, after losing father-mother-wife, almost his own life, tortured-blinded, he deeded to African astronomer Israel’s 6000 year great All-One-God-Faith all of his patents, plants, products, profits, 4 new industries: 13 Essene Birth Control patents, Planetemples & ‘Town Without Toothache’ potassium-soda industry giving mankind a new Mineral-salt, Calcium-malt, Corn-sesame-bread, Mineral-bouillon, catspaw sandals, & ‘Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps,’ All-One! In ’47, after father-mother-wife murdered, ourself tortured-blinded, we wrote this poem: To keep my health! To do my work! To love, to live! To see to it I gain & grow 8 give & give! Never to look behind me for an hour! Never to wait in weakness nor to brag in power! Always working, searching for more truth, more light! Always writing, teaching what I found good & right! Robbed-starved-beaten-blinded, wide astray! Sack with the full-truth I’ve gained, back to the way: Smile, help teach the whole Human race, the Moral ABC of AII-One-God-Faith, Lightning-like strong & we’re All-One! All-One!
ALL-ONE-GOD-FAITH UNITES HUMAN RACE! ALL-ONE!

Confucius Absolutes 600 B.C. 8 Mohammed’s Wisdom 600 A.D. unites all mankind free:

The 1st law of God’s tremendous Universe is order! Absolute all-embracing, ever- evolving, ever-recreating, ever-loving order! Exceptions eternally? Absolute none!

2nd, every body in God’s tremendous Universe must eat or there is no body! To shine on, eat must even the sun, consuming every second 4 million metric ton! To shine on, eat must even the sun! Exceptions eternally? Absolute none!

3rd, every ton of good food requires teamwork in harmony with God’s law, timing-team-work- wisdom-power-mercy-love can reap 6 million more fruit above, above! Exceptions eternally? None!

4th, any man raising 600 fruit trees in harmony with God’s law, timing-teamwork-wisdom-power- mercy-love can reap 6 million more fruit above, above! Exceptions? Eternal? Absolute none!

5th, only constructive working men have built all civilization & everything good that’s in it! Intolerant parasites, in order to eat, must dominate-dic1ate-distort-dilute-destroy- smear-slay-slander-cheat or they won’t eat! Exceptions eternally? Absolute none!

8th: The mark of the mature man is his ability to work brave, teaching all, every slave, how to replace coal-oil-gas-mineral-nuclear, unemployed-inflation, welfare-waste-war with Essene Birth-Control for very girl, Swiss 6000 year Universal Military Training UMT for full- employment, raising 1 trillion Israel-system trees, 2 million Dutch dikes, 3 Greek mirror- solars, 4 Hannibal windpower plants, 5 billion Amish-Amway-AT&T profitsharing jobs, 6 Milorganite plants, 76 million Planetemples teaching All-One-God-Faith, Austrian music, Babylon roof-gardens, California rain forests, China-bikes, Cartha-UMT, Catspaw sandals, compost tree, C02 bomber, the Moral ABC, cattle-lemon-Esperanto. Finn-jails, gasohol, German solar-Zeppelins, Health-meat-salt-soap-tape, jojoba-aloevera-chia-ginseng-garlic, Kibbutz, Nature Friends, patents, Swiss economy, Town-Without-Toothache, Patrick Henry teaches PHt’s of USA-USSR H20 cwp, with 76 million battery-banks, powering every car-factory-farm-home-Milorganite-monorail! To teach healthy Hunza 150-year great life by God’s Law, timing-teamwork-wisdom-power-mercy-love, uniting All-One above! Above! Know 41-4. Only hard work unites all! Scrolls: $10 for 10; $3 for 1, help unite all!

12th: Over-population destroys God’s spaceship Earth, unless Essene-Chinese controls limit all birth! Instead, absolute clean, apply vaseline-oil-butter or cream, insert teaspoon juicy lemon pulp, pH2, God’s Law prevents conception 100% below pH3. Next day douche with qt. soapy water, pH8, restoring pH5 balance God-made! Who else but God gave man this sensuous passion. Love that can spark mere dust to life! Beauty in our Eternal Father’s fashion! Poetry, uniting All-One, brave, all life! Who else but God can make Love last 1 trillion years of sweet eternities! For when conquered after years of toil- sweat-blood, Love can strike like greased lightning sent by God to spark mere dust to intense blazing fire & create new Love-faith-hope-guts-strength, as only God inspire! Unite the Human race in All-One-God-Faith, as all mankind desire! Who else but God. “An Army of Principles,” wrote Thos. Paine in 1799 “can penetrate when an army of soldiers” can-not! It will succeed where diplomacy may fail? It will always construct & help unite One-God-Faith, where every other weapon divides the Human race! The onslaught of such an Army of Principles cannot be stopped by the Rhine, the Channel or the ocean! It’s progress will match on the horizon of the world & it will conquer every tyranny, every Human heart by teaching every man the Moral ABC of the Free: Free to communicate-cooperate-construct! Free to build, protect & share! Free to grow, develop & expand! Free to unite in love, cherish & enjoy the Kingdom, the dictatorship of God’s law, uniting the whole Human race in our Eternal Father’s great All-One-God-Faith! For we’re All-One or none: Listen Children Eternal Father Eternally One!”

American democratic President Wilson, 1917, replaced Marxism by Lenin. “We are not a nation of classes, races, minority or pressure groups! Anybody trading on our race, color, nationality or religion is not yet American, does not yet deserve to enjoy the liberties of the Stars & Stripes! He does not yet know, that the Army of Principles by America’s Founding Father, the world’s 1st steelbridqe-builder, Thos. Paine, since 1799, unites the whole Human race in our Eternal Father’s great All-One-God-Faith! Once we teach it, 6 billion strong, we’re All-One! “As teach Abraham-Israel-Moses- Buddha-Jesus & Mohammed, inspired every 76 yrs. by the messenger of God’s law, the Messiah, Halley’s Comet! 6000 yrs. since the year One! We’re All-One! All-One!

In ’68 American Mao professor Marcuse upset Moscow’s Czech power till Moscow’s Press had the courage to confess: “Marx is god! Marcuse his prophet! Mao his sword! 50,000 American university professors, his disciples! Black Panthers his killers!” What an apology we Rabbis owe Marx-Moscow, all Jews, all mankind, IRS slave, for our 2000 year failure to teach brave the constructive-selfish Moral ABC the real Rabbi Hillel taught Jesus to unite all mankind free! The exact opposite to absolute-unselfish Marxism, that enslaves the Free! Unless we teach the whole Human race the Moral ABC from uniting All-One-God-Faith, we’re dead men on furlough from half-true hates!

From ’29 to ’79 we wired our “Public Servants” over 13,000 times to help unite the whole Human race in our Eternal Fathers’ great All-One-God-Faith! With the 8 great books by Thos. Paine, suppressed since 1799: The Realist Declaration, The Age of Reason & The Army of Principles will instantly unite the whole Human race in our Eternal Father’s great All-One- God-Faith: “LISTEN CHILDREN ETERNAL FATHER ETERNALLY ONE!” WE’RE ALL ONE!

The trouble is that the wrong people are always the most energetic, united & intense, dividing the hardworker to die in self-defense! That fact alone brings Hitlers & Stalins to power & that fact will only change when we teach the whole Human race the Moral ABC of All-One-God-Faith, lightning-like, 6 billion strong & we’re All-One! All-One! All-One! As Israel teaches since the year One: “Listen Children Eternal Father Eternally One!’ Exceptions? None!

Previously:
the process

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Altering Perceptions on an Astral Plane Trip
By MANOHLA DARGIS
[NY Times - 9.23.2010]

In “Enter the Void” the camera soars above the world like a bird, like a kite, like a ghost. It moves with smooth, gentle motions and seemingly indecisive purpose, passing through walls, drifting over alleys and climbing high above the roofs of a nighttime city agleam in jeweled color. At times it hovers next to one of the city’s inhabitants like an angel or a threat. Occasionally it even appears to take up temporary residence in someone’s head — dive-bombing toward the back of a skull like a blow — so that it (and we) can see the world directly from another point of view: This is your brain. This is your brain on a Gaspar Noé movie.

More specifically, “Enter the Void” is the latest from the never uninteresting, sometimes exasperating Mr. Noé, whose films, like “Irrevérsible” (2002), skew toward provocations, filled with flashes of genius and irredeemable nonsense. The title of “Enter the Void,” which sounds like both a dare and a fun-house attraction, makes sense in a work about death and other hard times, but it also expresses Mr. Noé’s bad-boy, punk attitude, which can be hard to take seriously. His insistence on representing ugly extremes (incest, rape, murder) can be especially wearisome, coming across as weak bids to shock his audience (épater la bourgeoisie, as the French poets once said), which, already expecting (perhaps eagerly) a Gaspar Noé freakout, is unlikely to have its world genuinely rocked. But bring it on, Gaspar!

And so he does in “Enter the Void,” where, with beauty, mild and sharp jolts, and mesmerizing camerawork, he tries to open the doors of perception. Set primarily in Tokyo and often at night, the film is divided into two sections. In the first, a young American, Oscar (Nathaniel Brown), smokes some hallucinogens — the screen exploding with phosphorescent, biomorphic forms — walks around, buys and sells drugs, and discusses the Tibetan Book of the Dead. In the second section, Oscar’s spirit (or something) appears to separate from his apparently dying body, gazing down at the bleeding man curled on the floor. The flesh will surely rot, but the spirit will continue the journey, plunging into the night and darker memories.

Is Oscar dead or dreaming? Certainly he seems more alive as a spirit, if only because by the second section the camera is freed from the constraints of normal human activity. That’s true even though from the start of the film we share Oscar’s literal perspective, seeing what he sees. It’s an unusual vantage. Movies generally try to lock you into the story by placing a camera in intimate proximity with a character, as with over-the-shoulder shots. We’re so accustomed to these conventions that we tend to notice only the deviations, as in the work of Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne (“The Son”), where the camera sometimes hovers so near to a character’s ear that you can’t see much else in the shot, creating a sense of shared vision.

In the Dardenne films, this intimacy between you and the character (and, by extension, the filmmakers) is as much an ethical stance — they bring you close to the blessed and the damned — as it is a narrative strategy. “Enter the Void” is a different kind of beast, partly because it’s told through Oscar’s sustained point of view. This subject position — in which the camera, a character and the audience share the same look — can be very powerful, allowing you to see through a character’s eyes in blissful or terrifying communion. The dreamlike shot of James Stewart’s character pushing open a flower-shop door to gaze at a resplendent Kim Novak in Hitchcock’s “Vertigo,” for instance, is one of the most haunting in cinema.

But if held for long, the subjective point of view can seem like a gimmick, even weird, as if the camera were mounted on the character’s neck instead of the head. You begin to wonder how the trick was pulled off, which can break the narrative spell, or so conventional wisdom insists. In truth, viewers are more adaptive than moviemaking manuals. And, indeed, sustained point-of-view shots are more common in nonfiction cinema, where we are trained to see through the eyes of filmmakers holding cameras, as in “The Gleaners and I” (2000), Agnès Varda’s poetic essay about collecting and other pursuits. In that movie, the first-person form of address is intensely personal because the filmmaker’s body sometimes seems one with the camera — she fills the apparatus with her humanity.

“Enter the Void,” despite its attempt to fuse man with machine, is scarcely as friendly, though it’s certainly a personal work. If you care about strong stories, don’t bother. Hardly anything happens here in conventional movie terms, though there’s plenty of decorative pulp — drug dealers, drug abusers, pole dancers, love-hotel clients — none of it gripping. Oscar’s sister, played by Paz de la Huerta in a monotone and with her customary lack of clothes, is easy on the eyes if hard on the ears. And the scene of a cataclysmic accident that the siblings shared once upon a time is stunning, at least the first time around. Unfortunately, Mr. Noé, never one for subtlety, repeats the trauma several times, draining it of its power.

And still, you keep watching. I have twice, happily — the first time at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival, where the movie ran 17 minutes longer. The cuts haven’t hurt the film, as far as I can tell, though I preferred the extended-play version because there seemed to be more astral-drift and trippy flowers. Whatever the case, those blooms are a nice change for Mr. Noé, who’s overly fond of grossing you out. Speaking of which, be warned: there’s a graphic scene of an abortion near the end that’s capped with a ludicrously intact fetus, a scene that speaks more to Mr. Noé’s debt to Stanley Kubrick and the star child in “2001” than to the ostensible spiritual themes in “Enter the Void.” Of course, for some, Kubrick is God. Mr. Noé, on the other hand, is a follower, if one to watch.

Link: noé

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Link: how to dress well

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DIGITAL MAOISM:
The Hazards of the New Online Collectivism
By Jaron Lanier

[from Edge - 5.30.06]

My Wikipedia entry identifies me (at least this week) as a film director. It is true I made one experimental short film about a decade and a half ago. The concept was awful: I tried to imagine what Maya Deren would have done with morphing. It was shown once at a film festival and was never distributed and I would be most comfortable if no one ever sees it again.

In the real world it is easy to not direct films. I have attempted to retire from directing films in the alternative universe that is the Wikipedia a number of times, but somebody always overrules me. Every time my Wikipedia entry is corrected, within a day I’m turned into a film director again. I can think of no more suitable punishment than making these determined Wikipedia goblins actually watch my one small old movie.

Twice in the past several weeks, reporters have asked me about my filmmaking career. The fantasies of the goblins have entered that portion of the world that is attempting to remain real. I know I’ve gotten off easy. The errors in my Wikipedia bio have been (at least prior to the publication of this article) charming and even flattering.

Reading a Wikipedia entry is like reading the bible closely. There are faint traces of the voices of various anonymous authors and editors, though it is impossible to be sure. In my particular case, it appears that the goblins are probably members or descendants of the rather sweet old Mondo 2000 culture linking psychedelic experimentation with computers. They seem to place great importance on relating my ideas to those of the psychedelic luminaries of old (and in ways that I happen to find sloppy and incorrect.) Edits deviating from this set of odd ideas that are important to this one particular small subculture are immediately removed. This makes sense. Who else would volunteer to pay that much attention and do all that work?

The problem I am concerned with here is not the Wikipedia in itself. It’s been criticized quite a lot, especially in the last year, but the Wikipedia is just one experiment that still has room to change and grow. At the very least it’s a success at revealing what the online people with the most determination and time on their hands are thinking, and that’s actually interesting information.

No, the problem is in the way the Wikipedia has come to be regarded and used; how it’s been elevated to such importance so quickly. And that is part of the larger pattern of the appeal of a new online collectivism that is nothing less than a resurgence of the idea that the collective is all-wise, that it is desirable to have influence concentrated in a bottleneck that can channel the collective with the most verity and force. This is different from representative democracy, or meritocracy. This idea has had dreadful consequences when thrust upon us from the extreme Right or the extreme Left in various historical periods. The fact that it’s now being re-introduced today by prominent technologists and futurists, people who in many cases I know and like, doesn’t make it any less dangerous.

There was a well-publicized study in Nature last year comparing the accuracy of the Wikipedia to Encyclopedia Britannica. The results were a toss up, while there is a lingering debate about the validity of the study. The items selected for the comparison were just the sort that Wikipedia would do well on: Science topics that the collective at large doesn’t care much about. “Kinetic isotope effect” or “Vesalius, Andreas” are examples of topics that make the Britannica hard to maintain, because it takes work to find the right authors to research and review a multitude of diverse topics. But they are perfect for the Wikipedia. There is little controversy around these items, plus the Net provides ready access to a reasonably small number of competent specialist graduate student types possessing the manic motivation of youth.

A core belief of the wiki world is that whatever problems exist in the wiki will be incrementally corrected as the process unfolds. This is analogous to the claims of Hyper-Libertarians who put infinite faith in a free market, or the Hyper-Lefties who are somehow able to sit through consensus decision-making processes. In all these cases, it seems to me that empirical evidence has yielded mixed results. Sometimes loosely structured collective activities yield continuous improvements and sometimes they don’t. Often we don’t live long enough to find out. Later in this essay I’ll point out what constraints make a collective smart. But first, it’s important to not lose sight of values just because the question of whether a collective can be smart is so fascinating. Accuracy in a text is not enough. A desirable text is more than a collection of accurate references. It is also an expression of personality.

For instance, most of the technical or scientific information that is in the Wikipedia was already on the Web before the Wikipedia was started. You could always use Google or other search services to find information about items that are now wikified. In some cases I have noticed specific texts get cloned from original sites at universities or labs onto wiki pages. And when that happens, each text loses part of its value. Since search engines are now more likely to point you to the wikified versions, the Web has lost some of its flavor in casual use.

When you see the context in which something was written and you know who the author was beyond just a name, you learn so much more than when you find the same text placed in the anonymous, faux-authoritative, anti-contextual brew of the Wikipedia. The question isn’t just one of authentication and accountability, though those are important, but something more subtle. A voice should be sensed as a whole. You have to have a chance to sense personality in order for language to have its full meaning. Personal Web pages do that, as do journals and books. Even Britannica has an editorial voice, which some people have criticized as being vaguely too “Dead White Men.”

If an ironic Web site devoted to destroying cinema claimed that I was a filmmaker, it would suddenly make sense. That would be an authentic piece of text. But placed out of context in the Wikipedia, it becomes drivel.

Myspace is another recent experiment that has become even more influential than the Wikipedia. Like the Wikipedia, it adds just a little to the powers already present on the Web in order to inspire a dramatic shift in use. Myspace is all about authorship, but it doesn’t pretend to be all-wise. You can always tell at least a little about the character of the person who made a Myspace page. But it is very rare indeed that a Myspace page inspires even the slightest confidence that the author is a trustworthy authority. Hurray for Myspace on that count!

Myspace is a richer, multi-layered, source of information than the Wikipedia, although the topics the two services cover barely overlap. If you want to research a TV show in terms of what people think of it, Myspace will reveal more to you than the analogous and enormous entries in the Wikipedia.

The Wikipedia is far from being the only online fetish site for foolish collectivism. There’s a frantic race taking place online to become the most “Meta” site, to be the highest level aggregator, subsuming the identity of all other sites.

The race began innocently enough with the notion of creating directories of online destinations, such as the early incarnations of Yahoo. Then came AltaVista, where one could search using an inverted database of the content of the whole Web. Then came Google, which added page rank algorithms. Then came the blogs, which varied greatly in terms of quality and importance. This lead to Meta-blogs such as Boing Boing, run by identified humans, which served to aggregate blogs. In all of these formulations, real people were still in charge. An individual or individuals were presenting a personality and taking responsibility.

These Web-based designs assumed that value would flow from people. It was still clear, in all such designs, that the Web was made of people, and that ultimately value always came from connecting with real humans.

Even Google by itself (as it stands today) isn’t Meta enough to be a problem. One layer of page ranking is hardly a threat to authorship, but an accumulation of many layers can create a meaningless murk, and that is another matter.

In the last year or two the trend has been to remove the scent of people, so as to come as close as possible to simulating the appearance of content emerging out of the Web as if it were speaking to us as a supernatural oracle. This is where the use of the Internet crosses the line into delusion.

Kevin Kelly, the former editor of Whole Earth Review and the founding Executive Editor of Wired, is a friend and someone who has been thinking about what he and others call the “Hive Mind.” He runs a Website called Cool Tools that’s a cross between a blog and the old Whole Earth Catalog. On Cool Tools, the contributors, including me, are not a hive because we are identified.

In March, Kelly reviewed a variety of “Consensus Web filters” such as “Digg” and “Reddit” that assemble material every day from all the myriad of other aggregating sites. Such sites intend to be more Meta than the sites they aggregate. There is no person taking responsibility for what appears on them, only an algorithm. The hope seems to be that the most Meta site will become the mother of all bottlenecks and receive infinite funding.

That new magnitude of Meta-ness lasted only amonth. In April, Kelly reviewed a site called “popurls” that aggregates consensus Web filtering sites…and there was a new “most Meta”. We now are reading what a collectivity algorithm derives from what other collectivity algorithms derived from what collectives chose from what a population of mostly amateur writers wrote anonymously.

Is “popurls” any good? I am writing this on May 27, 2006. In the last few days an experimental approach to diabetes management has been announced that might prevent nerve damage. That’s huge news for tens of millions of Americans. It is not mentioned on popurls. Popurls does clue us in to this news: “Student sets simultaneous world ice cream-eating record, worst ever ice cream headache.” Mainstream news sources all lead today with a serious earthquake in Java. Popurls includes a few mentions of the event, but they are buried within the aggregation of aggregate news sites like Google News. The reason the quake appears on popurls at all can be discovered only if you dig through all the aggregating layers to find the original sources, which are those rare entries actually created by professional writers and editors who sign their names. But at the layer of popurls, the ice cream story and the Javanese earthquake are at best equals, without context or authorship.

Kevin Kelly says of the “popurls” site, “There’s no better way to watch the hive mind.” But the hive mind is for the most part stupid and boring. Why pay attention to it?

Readers of my previous rants will notice a parallel between my discomfort with so-called “Artificial Intelligence” and the race to erase personality and be most Meta. In each case, there’s a presumption that something like a distinct kin to individual human intelligence is either about to appear any minute, or has already appeared. The problem with that presumption is that people are all too willing to lower standards in order to make the purported newcomer appear smart. Just as people are willing to bend over backwards and make themselves stupid in order to make an AI interface appear smart (as happens when someone can interact with the notorious Microsoft paper clip,) so are they willing to become uncritical and dim in order to make Meta-aggregator sites appear to be coherent.

There is a pedagogical connection between the culture of Artificial Intelligence and the strange allure of anonymous collectivism online. Google’s vast servers and the Wikipedia are both mentioned frequently as being the startup memory for Artificial Intelligences to come. Larry Page is quoted via a link presented to me by popurls this morning (who knows if it’s accurate) as speculating that an AI might appear within Google within a few years. George Dyson has wondered if such an entity already exists on the Net, perhaps perched within Google. My point here is not to argue about the existence of Metaphysical entities, but just to emphasize how premature and dangerous it is to lower the expectations we hold for individual human intellects.

The beauty of the Internet is that it connects people. The value is in the other people. If we start to believe that the Internet itself is an entity that has something to say, we’re devaluing those people and making ourselves into idiots.

Compounding the problem is that new business models for people who think and write have not appeared as quickly as we all hoped. Newspapers, for instance, are on the whole facing a grim decline as the Internet takes over the feeding of curious eyes that hover over morning coffee and even worse, classified ads. In the new environment, Google News is for the moment better funded and enjoys a more secure future than most of the rather small number of fine reporters around the world who ultimately create most of its content. The aggregator is richer than the aggregated.

The question of new business models for content creators on the Internet is a profound and difficult topic in itself, but it must at least be pointed out that writing professionally and well takes time and that most authors need to be paid to take that time. In this regard, blogging is not writing. For example, it’s easy to be loved as a blogger. All you have to do is play to the crowd. Or you can flame the crowd to get attention. Nothing is wrong with either of those activities. What I think of as real writing, however, writing meant to last, is something else. It involves articulating a perspective that is not just reactive to yesterday’s moves in a conversation.

The artificial elevation of all things Meta is not confined to online culture. It is having a profound influence on how decisions are made in America.

What we are witnessing today is the alarming rise of the fallacy of the infallible collective. Numerous elite organizations have been swept off their feet by the idea. They are inspired by the rise of the Wikipedia, by the wealth of Google, and by the rush of entrepreneurs to be the most Meta. Government agencies, top corporate planning departments, and major universities have all gotten the bug.

As a consultant, I used to be asked to test an idea or propose a new one to solve a problem. In the last couple of years I’ve often been asked to work quite differently. You might find me and the other consultants filling out survey forms or tweaking edits to a collective essay. I’m saying and doing much less than I used to, even though I’m still being paid the same amount. Maybe I shouldn’t complain, but the actions of big institutions do matter, and it’s time to speak out against the collectivity fad that is upon us.

It’s not hard to see why the fallacy of collectivism has become so popular in big organizations: If the principle is correct, then individuals should not be required to take on risks or responsibilities. We live in times of tremendous uncertainties coupled with infinite liability phobia, and we must function within institutions that are loyal to no executive, much less to any lower level member. Every individual who is afraid to say the wrong thing within his or her organization is safer when hiding behind a wiki or some other Meta aggregation ritual.

I’ve participated in a number of elite, well-paid wikis and Meta-surveys lately and have had a chance to observe the results. I have even been part of a wiki about wikis. What I’ve seen is a loss of insight and subtlety, a disregard for the nuances of considered opinions, and an increased tendency to enshrine the official or normative beliefs of an organization. Why isn’t everyone screaming about the recent epidemic of inappropriate uses of the collective? It seems to me the reason is that bad old ideas look confusingly fresh when they are packaged as technology.

The collective rises around us in multifarious ways. What afflicts big institutions also afflicts pop culture. For instance, it has become notoriously difficult to introduce a new pop star in the music business. Even the most successful entrants have hardly ever made it past the first album in the last decade or so. The exception is American Idol. As with the Wikipedia, there’s nothing wrong with it. The problem is its centrality.

More people appear to vote in this pop competition than in presidential elections, and one reason for this is the instant convenience of information technology. The collective can vote by phone or by texting, and some vote more than once. The collective is flattered and it responds. The winners are likable, almost by definition.

But John Lennon wouldn’t have won. He wouldn’t have made it to the finals. Or if he had, he would have ended up a different sort of person and artist. The same could be said about Jimi Hendrix, Elvis, Joni Mitchell, Duke Ellington, David Byrne, Grandmaster Flash, Bob Dylan (please!), and almost anyone else who has been vastly influential in creating pop music.

As below, so above. The New York Times, of all places, has recently published op-ed pieces supporting the pseudo-idea of intelligent design. This is astonishing. The Times has become the paper of averaging opinions. Something is lost when American Idol becomes a leader instead of a follower of pop music. But when intelligent design shares the stage with real science in the paper of record, everything is lost.

How could the Times have fallen so far? I don’t know, but I would imagine the process was similar to what I’ve seen in the consulting world of late. It’s safer to be the aggregator of the collective. You get to include all sorts of material without committing to anything. You can be superficially interesting without having to worry about the possibility of being wrong.

Except when intelligent thought really matters. In that case the average idea can be quite wrong, and only the best ideas have lasting value. Science is like that.

The collective isn’t always stupid. In some special cases the collective can be brilliant. For instance, there’s a demonstrative ritual often presented to incoming students at business schools. In one version of the ritual, a large jar of jellybeans is placed in the front of a classroom. Each student guesses how many beans there are. While the guesses vary widely, the average is usually accurate to an uncanny degree.

This is an example of the special kind of intelligence offered by a collective. It is that peculiar trait that has been celebrated as the “Wisdom of Crowds,” though I think the word “wisdom” is misleading. It is part of what makes Adam Smith’s Invisible Hand clever, and is connected to the reasons Google’s page rank algorithms work. It was long ago adapted to futurism, where it was known as the Delphi technique. The phenomenon is real, and immensely useful.

But it is not infinitely useful. The collective can be stupid, too. Witness tulip crazes and stock bubbles. Hysteria over fictitious satanic cult child abductions. Y2K mania.

The reason the collective can be valuable is precisely that its peaks of intelligence and stupidity are not the same as the ones usually displayed by individuals. Both kinds of intelligence are essential.

What makes a market work, for instance, is the marriage of collective and individual intelligence. A marketplace can’t exist only on the basis of having prices determined by competition. It also needs entrepreneurs to come up with the products that are competing in the first place.

In other words, clever individuals, the heroes of the marketplace, ask the questions which are answered by collective behavior. They put the jellybeans in the jar.

There are certain types of answers that ought not be provided by an individual. When a government bureaucrat sets a price, for instance, the result is often inferior to the answer that would come from a reasonably informed collective that is reasonably free of manipulation or runaway internal resonances. But when a collective designs a product, you get design by committee, which is a derogatory expression for a reason.

Here I must take a moment to comment on Linux and similar efforts. The various formulations of “open” or “free” software are different from the Wikipedia and the race to be most Meta in important ways. Linux programmers are not anonymous and in fact personal glory is part of the motivational engine that keeps such enterprises in motion. But there are similarities, and the lack of a coherent voice or design sensibility in an esthetic sense is one negative quality of both open source software and the Wikipedia.

These movements are at their most efficient while building hidden information plumbing layers, such as Web servers. They are hopeless when it comes to producing fine user interfaces or user experiences. If the code that ran the Wikipedia user interface were as open as the contents of the entries, it would churn itself into impenetrable muck almost immediately. The collective is good at solving problems which demand results that can be evaluated by uncontroversial performance parameters, but it is bad when taste and judgment matter.

Collectives can be just as stupid as any individual, and in important cases, stupider. The interesting question is whether it’s possible to map out where the one is smarter than the many.

There is a lot of history to this topic, and varied disciplines have lots to say. Here is a quick pass at where I think the boundary between effective collective thought and nonsense lies: The collective is more likely to be smart when it isn’t defining its own questions, when the goodness of an answer can be evaluated by a simple result (such as a single numeric value,) and when the information system which informs the collective is filtered by a quality control mechanism that relies on individuals to a high degree. Under those circumstances, a collective can be smarter than a person. Break any one of those conditions and the collective becomes unreliable or worse.

Meanwhile, an individual best achieves optimal stupidity on those rare occasions when one is both given substantial powers and insulated from the results of his or her actions.

If the above criteria have any merit, then there is an unfortunate convergence. The setup for the most stupid collective is also the setup for the most stupid individuals.

Every authentic example of collective intelligence that I am aware of also shows how that collective was guided or inspired by well-meaning individuals. These people focused the collective and in some cases also corrected for some of the common hive mind failure modes. The balancing of influence between people and collectives is the heart of the design of democracies, scientific communities, and many other long-standing projects. There’s a lot of experience out there to work with. A few of these old ideas provide interesting new ways to approach the question of how to best use the hive mind.

The pre-Internet world provides some great examples of how personality-based quality control can improve collective intelligence. For instance, an independent press provides tasty news about politicians by reporters with strong voices and reputations, like the Watergate reporting of Woodward and Bernstein. Other writers provide product reviews, such as Walt Mossberg in The Wall Street Journal and David Pogue in The New York Times. Such journalists inform the collective’s determination of election results and pricing. Without an independent press, composed of heroic voices, the collective becomes stupid and unreliable, as has been demonstrated in many historical instances. (Recent events in America have reflected the weakening of the press, in my opinion.)

Scientific communities likewise achieve quality through a cooperative process that includes checks and balances, and ultimately rests on a foundation of goodwill and “blind” elitism — blind in the sense that ideally anyone can gain entry, but only on the basis of a meritocracy. The tenure system and many other aspects of the academy are designed to support the idea that individual scholars matter, not just the process or the collective.

Another example: Entrepreneurs aren’t the only “heroes” of a marketplace. The role of a central bank in an economy is not the same as that of a communist party official in a centrally planned economy. Even though setting an interest rate sounds like the answering of a question, it is really more like the asking of a question. The Fed asks the market to answer the question of how to best optimize for lowering inflation, for instance. While that might not be the question everyone would want to have asked, it is at least coherent.

Yes, there have been plenty of scandals in government, the academy and in the press. No mechanism is perfect, but still here we are, having benefited from all of these institutions. There certainly have been plenty of bad reporters, self-deluded academic scientists, incompetent bureaucrats, and so on. Can the hive mind help keep them in check? The answer provided by experiments in the pre-Internet world is “yes,” but only provided some signal processing is placed in the loop.

Some of the regulating mechanisms for collectives that have been most successful in the pre-Internet world can be understood in part as modulating the time domain. For instance, what if a collective moves too readily and quickly, jittering instead of settling down to provide a single answer? This happens on the most active Wikipedia entries, for example, and has also been seen in some speculation frenzies in open markets.

One service performed by representative democracy is low-pass filtering. Imagine the jittery shifts that would take place if a wiki were put in charge of writing laws. It’s a terrifying thing to consider. Super-energized people would be struggling to shift the wording of the tax-code on a frantic, never-ending basis. The Internet would be swamped.

Such chaos can be avoided in the same way it already is, albeit imperfectly, by the slower processes of elections and court proceedings. The calming effect of orderly democracy achieves more than just the smoothing out of peripatetic struggles for consensus. It also reduces the potential for the collective to suddenly jump into an over-excited state when too many rapid changes to answers coincide in such a way that they don’t cancel each other out. (Technical readers will recognize familiar principles in signal processing.)

The Wikipedia has recently slapped a crude low pass filter on the jitteriest entries, such as “President George W. Bush.” There’s now a limit to how often a particular person can remove someone else’s text fragments. I suspect that this will eventually have to evolve into an approximate mirror of democracy as it was before the Internet arrived.

The reverse problem can also appear. The hive mind can be on the right track, but moving too slowly. Sometimes collectives would yield brilliant results given enough time but there isn’t enough time. A problem like global warming would automatically be addressed eventually if the market had enough time to respond to it, for instance. Insurance rates would climb, and so on. Alas, in this case there isn’t enough time, because the market conversation is slowed down by the legacy effect of existing investments. Therefore some other process has to intervene, such as politics invoked by individuals.

Another example of the slow hive problem: There was a lot of technology developed slowly in the millennia before there was a clear idea of how to be empirical, how to have a peer reviewed technical literature and an education based on it, and before there was an efficient market to determine the value of inventions. What is crucial to notice about modernity is that structure and constraints were part of what sped up the process of technological development, not just pure openness and concessions to the collective.

Let’s suppose that the Wikipedia will indeed become better in some ways, as is claimed by the faithful, over a period of time. We might still need something better sooner.

Some wikitopians explicitly hope to see education subsumed by wikis. It is at least possible that in the fairly near future enough communication and education will take place through anonymous Internet aggregation that we could become vulnerable to a sudden dangerous empowering of the hive mind. History has shown us again and again that a hive mind is a cruel idiot when it runs on autopilot. Nasty hive mind outbursts have been flavored Maoist, Fascist, and religious, and these are only a small sampling. I don’t see why there couldn’t be future social disasters that appear suddenly under the cover of technological utopianism. If wikis are to gain any more influence they ought to be improved by mechanisms like the ones that have worked tolerably well in the pre-Internet world.

The hive mind should be thought of as a tool. Empowering the collective does not empower individuals — just the reverse is true. There can be useful feedback loops set up between individuals and the hive mind, but the hive mind is too chaotic to be fed back into itself.

These are just a few ideas about how to train a potentially dangerous collective and not let it get out of the yard. When there’s a problem, you want it to bark but not bite you.

The illusion that what we already have is close to good enough, or that it is alive and will fix itself, is the most dangerous illusion of all. By avoiding that nonsense, it ought to be possible to find a humanistic and practical way to maximize value of the collective on the Web without turning ourselves into idiots. The best guiding principle is to always cherish individuals first.

Jaron Lanier is a film director. He writes a monthly column for Discover Magazine.

Link: jaron lanier

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Previously: da funk

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Link: olaf breuning

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Two Paths for the Novel

by Zadie Smith
[from the new york review of books]

Netherland
by Joseph O’Neill
Pantheon, 256 pp., $23.95

Remainder
by Tom McCarthy
Vintage, 308 pp., $13.95 (paper)

1.

From two recent novels, a story emerges about the future for the Anglophone novel. Both are the result of long journeys. Netherland, by Joseph O’Neill, took seven years to write; Remainder, by Tom McCarthy, took seven years to find a mainstream publisher. The two novels are antipodal—indeed one is the strong refusal of the other. The violence of the rejection Remainder represents to a novel like Netherland is, in part, a function of our ailing literary culture. All novels attempt to cut neural routes through the brain, to convince us that down this road the true future of the novel lies. In healthy times, we cut multiple roads, allowing for the possibility of a Jean Genet as surely as a Graham Greene.

These aren’t particularly healthy times. A breed of lyrical Realism has had the freedom of the highway for some time now, with most other exits blocked. For Netherland, our receptive pathways are so solidly established that to read this novel is to feel a powerful, somewhat dispiriting sense of recognition. It seems perfectly done—in a sense that’s the problem. It’s so precisely the image of what we have been taught to value in fiction that it throws that image into a kind of existential crisis, as the photograph gifts a nervous breakdown to the painted portrait.

Netherland is nominally the tale of Hans van den Broek, a Dutch stock analyst, transplanted from London to downtown New York with his wife and young son. When the towers fall, the family relocates to the Chelsea Hotel; soon after, a trial separation occurs. Wife and son depart once more for London, leaving Hans stranded in a world turned immaterial, phantasmagoric: “Life itself had become disembodied. My family, the spine of my days, had crumbled. I was lost in invertebrate time.” Every other weekend he visits his family, hoping “that flying high into the atmosphere, over boundless massifs of vapor or small clouds dispersed like the droppings of Pegasus on an unseen platform of air, might also lift me above my personal haze”—the first of many baroque descriptions of clouds, light, and water.

On alternate weekends, he plays cricket on Staten Island, the sole white man in a cricket club that includes Chuck Ramkissoon, a Trinidadian wiseacre, whose outsize dreams of building a cricket stadium in the city represent a Gatsbyesque commitment to the American Dream/human possibility/narrative with which Hans himself is struggling to keep faith. The stage is set, then, for a “meditation” on identities both personal and national, immigrant relations, terror, anxiety, the attack of futility on the human consciousness and the defense against same: meaning. In other words, it’s the post–September 11 novel we hoped for. (Were there calls, in 1915, for the Lusitania novel? In 1985, was the Bhopal novel keenly anticipated?) It’s as if, by an act of collective prayer, we have willed it into existence.

But Netherland is only superficially about September 11 or immigrants or cricket as a symbol of good citizenship. It certainly is about anxiety, but its worries are formal and revolve obsessively around the question of authenticity. Netherland sits at an anxiety crossroads where a community in recent crisis—the Anglo-American liberal middle class—meets a literary form in long-term crisis, the nineteenth-century lyrical Realism of Balzac and Flaubert.

Critiques of this form by now amount to a long tradition in and of themselves. Beginning with what Alain Robbe-Grillet called “the destitution of the old myths of ‘depth,’” they blossomed out into a phenomenology skeptical of Realism’s metaphysical tendencies, demanding, with Husserl, that we eschew the transcendental, the metaphorical, and go “back to the things themselves!”; they peaked in that radical deconstructive doubt which questions the capacity of language itself to describe the world with accuracy. They all of them note the (often unexamined) credos upon which Realism is built: the transcendent importance of form, the incantatory power of language to reveal truth, the essential fullness and continuity of the self.

Yet despite these theoretical assaults, the American metafiction that stood in opposition to Realism has been relegated to a safe corner of literary history, to be studied in postmodernity modules, and dismissed, by our most famous public critics, as a fascinating failure, intellectual brinkmanship that lacked heart. Barth, Barthelme, Pynchon, Gaddis, DeLillo, David Foster Wallace—all misguided ideologists, the novelist equivalents of the socialists in Francis Fukuyama’s The End of History and the Last Man. In this version of our literary history, the last man standing is the Balzac-Flaubert model, on the evidence of its extraordinary persistence. But the critiques persist, too. Is it really the closest model we have to our condition? Or simply the bedtime story that comforts us most?

Netherland, unlike much lyrical Realism, has some consciousness of these arguments, and so it is an anxious novel, unusually so. It is absolutely a post-catastrophe novel but the catastrophe isn’t terror, it’s Realism. In its opening pages, we get the first hint of this. Hans, packing up his London office in preparation to move to New York, finds himself buttonholed by a senior vice-president “who reminisced for several minutes about his loft on Wooster Street and his outings to the ‘original’ Dean & DeLuca.” Hans finds this nostalgia irritating: “Principally he was pitiable—like one of those Petersburgians of yesteryear whose duties have washed him up on the wrong side of the Urals.” But then:

It turns out he was right, in a way. Now that I, too, have left that city, I find it hard to rid myself of the feeling that life carries a taint of aftermath. This last-mentioned word, somebody once told me, refers literally to a second mowing of grass in the same season. You might say, if you’re the type prone to general observations, that New York City insists on memory’s repetitive mower—on the sort of purposeful postmortem that has the effect, so one is told and forlornly hopes, of cutting the grassy past to manageable proportions. For it keeps growing back, of course.

None of this means that I wish I were back there now; and naturally I’d like to believe that my own retrospection is in some way more important than the old S.V.P’s, which, when I was exposed to it, seemed to amount to not much more than a cheap longing. But there’s no such thing as a cheap longing, I’m tempted to conclude these days, not even if you’re sobbing over a cracked fingernail. Who knows what happened to that fellow over there? Who knows what lay behind his story about shopping for balsamic vinegar? He made it sound like an elixir, the poor bastard.

This paragraph is structured like a recognized cliché (i.e., We had come, as they say, to the end of the road). It places before us what it fears might be a tired effect: in this case, the nostalgia-fused narrative of one man’s retrospection (which is to form the basis of this novel). It recognizes that effect’s inauthenticity, its lack of novelty, even its possible dullness—and it employs the effect anyway. By stating its fears Netherland intends to neutralize them. It’s a novel that wants you to know that it knows you know it knows. Hans invites us to sneer lightly at those who are “prone to general observations” but only as a prelude to just such an observation, presented in language frankly genteel and faintly archaic (“so one is told and forlornly hopes”). Is it cheap longing? It can’t be because—and this is the founding, consoling myth of lyrical Realism—the self is a bottomless pool. What you can’t find in the heavens (anymore), you’ll find in the soul. Yet there remains, in Netherland, a great anxiety about the depth or otherwise of the soul in question (and thus Netherland‘s entire narrative project). Balsamic vinegar and Dean & DeLuca in the first two pages are no accident. All the class markers are openly displayed and it’s a preemptive strike: Is the reader suggesting that white middle-class futures traders are less authentic, less interesting, less capable of interiority than anyone else?

Enter Chuck Ramkissoon. Chuck has no such anxieties. He is unselfconscious. He moves through the novel simply being, and with abandon, saying those things that the novel—given its late place in the history of the novel—daren’t, for fear of seeming naive. It’s Chuck who openly states the central metaphor of the novel, that cricket is “a lesson in civility. We all know this; I do not need to say more about it.” It’s left to Chuck to make explicit the analogy between good behavior on pitch and immigrant citizenship: “And if we step out of line, believe me, this indulgence disappears. What this means…is, we have an extra responsibility to play the game right.” Through Chuck idealisms and enthusiasms can be expressed without anxiety:

“I love the national bird,” Chuck clarified. “The noble bald eagle represents the spirit of freedom, living as it does in the boundless void of the sky.”

I turned to see whether he was joking. He wasn’t. From time to time, Chuck actually spoke like this.

And again:

“It’s an impossible idea, right? But I’m convinced it will work. Totally convinced. You know what my motto is?”

“I didn’t think people had mottoes anymore,” I said.

“Think fantastic,” Chuck said. “My motto is, Think Fantastic.”

Chuck functions here as a kind of authenticity fetish, allowing Hans (and the reader) the nostalgic pleasure of returning to a narrative time when symbols and mottos were full of meaning and novels weren’t neurotic, but could aim themselves simply and purely at transcendent feeling. This culminates in a reverie on the cricket pitch. Chuck instructs Hans to put his Old World fears aside and hit the ball high (“How else are you going to get runs? This is America”) and Hans does this, and the movement is fluid, unexpected, formally perfect, and Hans permits himself an epiphany, expressed, like all epiphanies, in one long breathless, run-on sentence:

All of which may explain why I began to dream in all seriousness of a stadium and black and brown and even a few white faces crowded in bleachers, and Chuck and me laughing over drinks in the members’ enclosure and waving to people we know, and stiff flags on the pavilion roof, and fresh white sight-screens, and the captains in blazers looking up at a quarter spinning in the air, and a stadium-wide flutter of expectancy as the two umpires walk onto the turf square and its omelette-colored batting track, whereupon, with clouds scrambling in from the west, there is a roar as the cricket stars trot down the pavilion steps onto this impossible grass field in America, and everything is suddenly clear, and I am at last naturalized.

There are those clouds again. Under them, Hans is rendered authentic, real, natural. It’s the dream that Plato started, and Hans is still having it.

But Netherland is anxious. It knows the world has changed and we do not stand in the same relation to it as we did when Balzac was writing. In Père Goriot, Balzac makes the wallpaper of the Pension Vauquer speak of the lives of the guests inside. Hans does not have quite this metaphysical confidence: he can’t be Chuck’s flawless interpreter. And so Netherland plants inside itself its own partial critique, in the form of Hans’s wife, Rachel, whose “truest self resisted triteness, even of the inventive romantic variety, as a kind of falsehood.” It is she who informs Hans of what the reader has begun to suspect:

“Basically, you didn’t take him seriously.”

She has accused me of exoticizing Chuck Ramkissoon, of giving him a pass, of failing to grant him a respectful measure of distrust, of perpetrating a white man’s infantilizing elevation of a black man.

Hans denies the charge, but this conversation signals the end of Chuck’s privileged position (gifted to him by identity politics, the only authenticity to survive the twentieth century). The authenticity of ethnicity is shown to be a fake—Chuck’s seeming naturalness is simply an excess of ego, which overflows soon enough into thuggery and fraud. For a while Chuck made Hans feel authentic, but then, later, the submerged anger arrives, as it always does: what makes Chuck more authentic than Hans anyway? It makes sense that Hans’s greatest moment of antipathy toward Chuck (he is angry because Chuck has drawn him into his shady, violent business dealings) should come after three pages of monologue, in which Chuck tells a tale of island life, full of authentic Spanish names and local customs and animals and plants, which reads like a Trinidadian novel:

Very little was said during the rest of that journey to New York City. Chuck never apologized or explained. It’s probable that he felt his presence in the car amounted to an apology and his story to an explanation—or, at the very least, that he’d privileged me with an opportunity to reflect on the stuff of his soul. I wasn’t interested in drawing a line from his childhood to the sense of authorization that permitted him, as an American, to do what I had seen him do. He was expecting me to make the moral adjustment—and here was an adjustment I really couldn’t make.

Once the possibility of Chuck’s cultural authenticity is out of play, a possible substitute is introduced: world events. Are they the real thing? During a snowstorm, Hans and Rachel have the argument everyone has (“She said, ‘Bush wants to attack Iraq as part of a right-wing plan to destroy international law and order as we know it and replace it with the global rule of American force’”), which ends for Hans as it ends for many people, though you get the sense Hans believes his confession to be in some way transgressive:

Did Iraq have weapons of mass destruction that posed a real threat? I had no idea; and to be truthful, and to touch on my real difficulty, I had little interest. I didn’t really care.

But this conclusion is never in doubt: even as Rachel rages on, Hans’s mind wanders repeatedly to the storm, its specks of snow like “small and dark…flies,” and also like ” a cold toga draped [over] the city.” The nineteenth-century flaneur’s ennui has been transplanted to the twenty-first-century bourgeois’s political apathy—and made beautiful. Other people’s political engagement is revealed to be simply another form of inauthenticity. (“World events had finally contrived a meaningful test of their capacity for conscientious political thought. Many of my acquaintances, I realized, had passed the last decade or two in a state of intellectual and psychic yearning for such a moment.”) The only sophisticated thing to do, the only literary thing to do, is to stop listening to Rachel and think of a night sky:

A memory of Rachel and me flying to Hong Kong for our honeymoon, and how in the dimmed cabin I looked out of my window and saw lights, in small glimmering webs, on the placeless darkness miles below. I pointed them out to Rachel. I wanted to say something about these creaturely cosmic glows, which made me feel, I wanted to say, as if we had been removed by translation into another world.

This sky serves the same purpose as another one near the end of the novel in which “a single cavaliering cloud trailed a tattered blue cloak of rain” and to which a “tantalizing metaphysical significance” attaches, offering Hans “sanctuary: for where else, outside of reverie’s holy space, was I to find it?” Where else indeed? These are tough times for Anglo-American liberals. All we’ve got left to believe in is ourselves.

In Netherland, only one’s own subjectivity is really authentic, and only the personal offers this possibility of transcendence, this “translation into another world.” Which is why personal things are so relentlessly aestheticized: this is how their importance is signified, and their depth. The world is covered in language. Lip service is paid to the sanctity of mystery:

One result [of growing up in Holland], in a temperament such as my own, was a sense that mystery is treasurable, even necessary: for mystery, in such a crowded, see-through little country, is, among other things, space.

But in practice Netherland colonizes all space by way of voracious image. This results in many beauties (“a static turnstile like a monster’s unearthed skeleton”) and some oddities (a cricket ball arrives “like a gigantic meteoritic cranberry”), though in both cases, there is an anxiety of excess. Everything must be made literary. Nothing escapes. On TV “dark Baghdad glitter[s] with American bombs.” Even the mini traumas of a middle-class life are given the high lyrical treatment, in what feels, at its best, like a grim satire on the profound fatuity of twenty-first-century bourgeois existence. The surprise discovery of his wife’s lactose intolerance becomes “an unknown hinterland to our marriage”; a slightly unpleasant experience of American bureaucracy at the DMV brings Hans (metaphorically) close to the war on terror:

And so I was in a state of fuming helplessness when I stepped out into the inverted obscurity of the afternoon…. I was seized for the first time by a nauseating sense of America, my gleaming adopted country, under the secret actuation of unjust, indifferent powers. The rinsed taxis, hissing over fresh slush, shone like grapefruits; but if you looked down into the space between the road and the undercarriage, where icy matter stuck to the pipes and water streamed down the mud flaps, you saw a foul mechanical dark.

To which one wants to say, isn’t it hard to see the dark when it’s so lyrically presented? And also: grapefruits?

In an essay written half a century ago, Robbe-Grillet imagined a future for the novel in which objects would no longer “be merely the vague reflection of the hero’s vague soul, the image of his torments, the shadow of his desires.” He dreaded the “total and unique adjective, which attempt[s] to unite all the inner qualities, the entire hidden soul of things.” But this adjectival mania is still our dominant mode, and Netherland is its most masterful recent example. And why shouldn’t it be? The received wisdom of literary history is that Finnegans Wake did not fundamentally disturb Realism’s course as Duchamp’s urinal disturbed Realism in the visual arts: the novel is made out of language, the smallest units of which still convey meaning, and so they will always carry the trace of the real. But if literary Realism survived the assault of Joyce, it retained the wound. Netherland bears this anxiety trace, it foregrounds its narrative nostalgia, asking us to note it, and look kindly upon it:

I was startled afresh by the existence of this waterside vista, which on a blurred morning such as this had the effect, once we passed under the George Washington Bridge, of canceling out centuries.

The centuries are duly canceled. What follows is a page of landscape portraiture, seen from a train’s window (“Clouds steaming on the clifftops foxed all sense of perspective, so that it seemed to me that I saw distant and fabulously high mountains”). Insert it into any nineteenth-century novel (again, a test first suggested by Robbe-Grillet) and you wouldn’t see the joins. The passage ends with a glimpse of a “near-naked white man” walking through the trees by the track; he is never explained and never mentioned again, and this is another rule of lyrical Realism: that the random detail confers the authenticity of the Real. As perfect as it all seems, in a strange way it makes you wish for urinals.

Halfway through the novel, Hans imagines being a professional cricketer, lyrically and at length. He dreams of the ball hanging “before me like a Christmas bauble,” of a bat preternaturally responsive by means of “a special dedication of memory,” and after he’s done, he asks for our indulgence:

How many of us are completely free of such scenarios? Who hasn’t known, a little shamefully, the joys they bring?

It’s a credit to Netherland that it is so anxious. Most practitioners of lyrical Realism blithely continue on their merry road, with not a metaphysical care in the world, and few of them write as finely as Joseph O’Neill. I have written in this tradition myself, and cautiously hope for its survival, but if it’s to survive, lyrical Realists will have to push a little harder on their subject. Netherland recognizes the tenuous nature of a self, that “fine white thread running, through years and years,” and Hans flirts with the possibility that language may not precisely describe the world (“I was assaulted by the notion, arriving in the form of a terrifying stroke of consciousness, that substance—everything of so called concreteness—was indistinct from its unnameable opposite”), but in the end Netherland wants always to comfort us, to assure us of our beautiful plenitude. At a certain point in his Pervert’s Guide to Cinema, the philosopher Slavoj Zizek passes quickly and dismissively over exactly this personal fullness we hold so dear in the literary arts (“You know…the wealth of human personality and so on and so forth…”), directing our attention instead to those cinematic masters of the anti-sublime (Hitchcock, Tarkovsky, David Lynch) who look into the eyes of the Other and see no self at all, only an unknowable absence, an abyss. Netherland flirts with that idea, too. Not knowing what to do with photographs of his young son, Hans gives them to Chuck’s girlfriend, Eliza, who organizes photo albums for a living:

“People want a story,” she said. “They like a story.”

I was thinking of the miserable apprehension we have of even those existences that matter most to us. To witness a life, even in love—even with a camera—was to witness a monstrous crime without noticing the particulars required for justice.

“A story,” I said suddenly. “Yes. That’s what I need.”

I wasn’t kidding.

An interesting thought is trying to reach us here, but the ghost of the literary burns it away, leaving only its remainder: a nicely constructed sentence, rich in sound and syntax, signifying (almost) nothing. Netherland doesn’t really want to know about misapprehension. It wants to offer us the authentic story of a self. But is this really what having a self feels like? Do selves always seek their good, in the end? Are they never perverse? Do they always want meaning? Do they not sometimes want its opposite? And is this how memory works? Do our childhoods often return to us in the form of coherent, lyrical reveries? Is this how time feels? Do the things of the world really come to us like this, embroidered in the verbal fancy of times past? Is this really Realism?

In the end what is impressive about Netherland is how precisely it knows the fears and weaknesses of its readers. What is disappointing is how much it indulges them. Out of a familiar love, like a lapsed High Anglican, Netherland hangs on to the rituals and garments of transcendence, though it well knows they are empty. In its final saccharine image (Hans and his family, reunited on the mandala of the London Eye Ferris wheel), Netherland demonstrates its sly ability to have its metaphysical cake and eat it, too:

A self-evident and prefabricated symbolism attaches itself to this slow climb to the zenith, and we are not so foolishly ironic, or confident, as to miss the opportunity to glimpse significantly into the eyes of the other and share the thought that occurs to all at this summit, which is, of course, that they have made it thus far, to a point where they can see horizons previously unseen, and the old earth reveals itself newly.

And this epiphany naturally reminds Hans of another, that occurred years earlier as the Staten Island Ferry approached New York, and the sky colored like a “Caran d’Ache box” of pencils, purples fading into blues:

Concentrat[ing] most glamorously of all, it goes without saying, in the lilac acres of two amazingly high towers going up above all others, on one of which, as the boat drew us nearer, the sun began to make a brilliant yellow mess. To speculate about the meaning of such a moment would be a stained, suspect business; but there is, I think, no need to speculate. Factual assertions can be made. I can state that I wasn’t the only person on that ferry who’d seen a pink watery sunset in his time, and I can state that I wasn’t the only one of us to make out and accept an extraordinary promise in what we saw—the tall approaching cape, a people risen in light.

There was the chance to let the towers be what they were: towers. But they were covered in literary language when they fell, and they continue to be here.

2.

If Netherland is a novel only partially aware of the ideas that underpin it, Tom McCarthy’s Remainder is fully conscious of its own. But how to write about it? Immediately an obstacle presents itself. When we write about lyrical Realism our great tool is the quote, so richly patterned. But Remainder is not filled with pretty quotes; it works by accumulation and repetition, closing in on its subject in ever-decreasing revolutions, like a trauma victim circling the blank horror of the traumatic event. It plays a long, meticulous game, opening with a deadpan paragraph of comic simplicity:

About the accident itself I can say very little. Almost nothing. It involved something falling from the sky. Technology Parts, bits. That’s it, really: all I can divulge. Not much, I know.

It’s not that I’m being shy. It’s just that—well, for one, I don’t even remember the event. It’s a blank: a white slate, a black hole. I have vague images, half-impressions: of being, or having been—or, more precisely, being about to be—hit; blue light; railings; lights of other colours; being held above some kind of tray or bed.

This is our protagonist, though that’s a word from another kind of novel. Better to use Enactor. This is our Enactor. He has no name, he lives in Brixton, and recently he has been hit on the head by some kind of enormous thing. For a long time he was in a coma, his mind “still asleep but getting restless and inventing spaces for me to inhabit…cricket grounds with white crease and boundary lines painted on the grass.” After a time, he recovers, though he has to learn to move and walk again. But there is a remainder: it appears that the “parties, institutions, organizations—let’s call them the bodies—responsible for what happened” are offering him a settlement on the condition of his silence (though he can’t remember what happened). His lawyer phones to tell him the amount. It is £8.5 million. The Enactor takes his hand from the wall it is on and turns suddenly to the window, accidentally pulling the phone out of the wall:

The connection had been cut. I stood there for some time, I don’t know how long, holding the dead receiver in my hand and looking down at what the wall had spilt. It looked kind of disgusting, like something that’s come out of something.

For the first fifty pages or so, this is Remainder‘s game, a kind of anti-literature hoax, a wind-up (which is, however, impeccably written). Meticulously it works through the things we expect of a novel, gleefully taking them apart, brick by brick. Hearing of the settlement he “felt neutral…. I looked around me at the sky: it was neutral too—a neutral spring day, sunny but not bright, neither cold nor warm.” It’s a huge sum of money, but he doesn’t like clothes or shoes or cars or yachts. A series of narrative epiphany McGuffins follow. He goes to the pub with a half-hearted love interest and his best friend. The girl thinks he should use the money to build an African village; the friend thinks he should use it to snort coke off the bodily surfaces of girls. Altruism and hedonism prove equally empty.

We hear of his physiotherapy—the part of his brain that controls motor function is damaged and needs to be rerouted: “To cut and lay the new circuits [in the brain], what they do is make you visualize things. Simple things, like lifting a carrot to your mouth.” You have to visualize every component of this action, over and over, and yet, he finds, when they finally put a real carrot in your hand, “gnarled, dirty and irregular in ways your imaginary carrot never was,” it short-circuits the visualization. He has to start from the top, integrating these new factors.

All this is recounted in a straightforward first person which reminds us that most avant-garde challenges to Realism concentrate on voice, on where this “I” is coming from, this mysterious third person. Spirals of interiority are the result (think of David Foster Wallace’s classic short story “The Depressed Person” in which a first-person consciousness is rendered in an obsessive third person, speaking to itself). Remainder, by contrast, empties out interiority entirely: the narrator finds all his own gestures to be completely inauthentic and everyone else’s too. Only while watching Mean Streets at the Brixton Ritzy does he have a sense of human fluidity, of manufactured truth—the way De Niro opens a fridge door, the way he lights a cigarette. So natural! But the Enactor finds he can’t be natural like De Niro, he isn’t fluid. He’s only good at completing cycles and series, reenacting actions. For example, he gets a certain tingling pleasure (this is literal, he gets it in his body) from having his reward card stamped in a certain “themed Seattle coffee bar,” on the corner of Frith Street and Old Compton. Ten stamps, ten cappuccinos, a new card, start the series again. He sits at the window people-watching. He sees inauthenticity everywhere:

Media types…their bodies and faces buzzed with glee, exhilaration—a jubilant awareness that for once, just now, at this particular right-angled intersection, they didn’t have to sit in a cinema or living room in front of a TV and watch other beautiful people laughing and hanging out: they could be the beautiful young people themselves. See? Just like me: completely second-hand.

The clubbers, the scene gays, the old boys heading to their drinking clubs—all formatted. Then suddenly he notices a group of homeless people, the way they take messages up and down the street to each other, with a sense of purpose, really seeming to own the street, interacting with it genuinely. He makes contact with one of them. He takes him to a local restaurant, buys him a meal. He wants to ask the boy something but he can’t get it out. Then the wine spills:

The waiter came back over. He was…She was young, with large, dark glasses, an Italian woman. Large breasts. Small.

“What do you want to know?” my homeless person asked.

“I want to know…” I started, but the waiter leant across me as he took the tablecloth away. She took the table away too. There wasn’t any table. The truth is, I’ve been making all this up—the stuff about the homeless person. He existed all right, sitting camouflaged against the shop fronts and the dustbins—but I didn’t go across to him.

Because, in fact, the homeless are just like everyone else:

They had a point to prove: that they were one with the street; that they and only they spoke its true language; that they really owned the space around them. Crap: total crap…. And then their swaggering, their arrogance: a cover. Usurpers. Frauds.

Large breasts. Small. The narrative has a nervous breakdown. It’s the final McGuffin, the end of the beginning, as if the novel were saying: Satisfied? Can I write this novel my way now? Remainder‘s way turns out to be an extreme form of dialectical materialism—it’s a book about a man who builds in order to feel. A few days after the fake homeless epiphany, at a party, while in the host’s bathroom, the Enactor sees a crack in the plaster in the wall. It reminds him of another crack, in the wall of “his” apartment in a very specific six-story building he has as yet no memory of ever living in or seeing. In this building many people lived doing many things—cooking liver, playing the piano, fixing a bike. And there were cats on the roof! It all comes back to him, though it was never there in the first place.

And now Remainder really begins, in the mission to rebuild this building, to place re-enactors in it re-enacting those actions he wants them to enact (cooking liver, playing the piano, fixing a bike), doing them over and over till it feels real, while he, in his apartment, fluidly closes and reopens a fridge door, just like De Niro. Eight and a half a million quid should cover this, especially as he has entrusted his money to a man much like Hans van der Broek—a stock trader—who makes money for the Re-enactor (for that’s what he is now) almost as quickly as he can spend it.

To facilitate his re-enactment, the Re-enactor hires Nazrul Ram Vyas, an Indian “from a high-caste family” who works as a facilitator for a company dedicated to personal inauthenticity: Time Control UK. They take people’s lives and manage them for them. Nazrul is no more a character (in Realism’s sense of the word) than I am a chair, but he is the most exquisite facilitator and it is through him that every detail of the re-enactment is processed. He thinks of everything. In place of the pleasure of the rich adjective we have an imagined world in which logistical details and logical consequences are pursued with care and precision: if you were to rebuild an entire house and fill it with people re-enacting actions you have chosen for them, this is exactly how it would play out. Every detail is attended to except the one we’ve come think of as the only one that matters in a novel: how it feels. The Re-enactor in Remainder only ever has one feeling—the tingling—which occurs whenever his re-enactments are going particularly well.

The feeling is addictive; the enactments escalate, in a fascinating direction. A black man is shot by two other black men near the Re-enactor’s house. The Re-enactor at once asks Naz to “lay the ground for the re-enactment of this black man’s death. I think I’d have gone mad otherwise, so strong was my compulsion to re-enact it.” In this re-enactment, the Re-enactor himself assumes the role of the “dead black man” (who is everywhere referred to like this). His tingling goes off the charts. It’s so good, he begins to fall into trances. It’s impossible not to note here that the non-white subject is still the bad conscience of the contemporary novel, obviously so in the Realist tradition, but also more subtly here in the avant-garde.

Why is the greatest facilitator of inauthenticity Asian? Why is the closest thing to epiphany a dead black man? Because Remainder, too, wants to destroy the myth of cultural authenticity—though for purer reasons than Netherland. If your project is to rid the self of its sacredness, to flatten selfhood out, it’s simply philosophical hypocrisy to let any selves escape, whatever color they may be. The nameless “dead black man” is a deliberate provocation on McCarthy’s part, and in its lack of coy sentiment there is a genuine transgressive thrill. Still, it does seem rather hard to have to give up on subjectivity when you’ve only recently got free of objectification. I suppose history only goes in one direction.

But to Remainder‘s provocation it’s tempting to answer with another: that beneath the conscious ideas of this novel, a subconscious trace remains, revealing a faint racial antipathy that is psychological and social rather than theoretical. (If Netherland can be read against its own grain, which is to say, theoretically, why not read Remainder psychologically?) For though these novels seem far apart, their authors are curiously similar. Similar age, similar class, one went to Oxford, the other Cambridge, both are by now a part of the publishing mainstream, share a fondness for cricket, and are subject to a typically British class/race anxiety that has left its residue. A flashback-inclined Freudian might conjure up the image of two brilliant young men, straight out of college, both eager to write the Novel of the Future, who discover, to their great dismay, that the authenticity baton (which is, of course, entirely phony) has been passed on. Passed to women, to those of color, to people of different sexualities, to people from far-off, war-torn places. The frustrated sense of having come to the authenticity party exactly a century late!

3.

Aspects of this constructive frustration were aired publicly at the Drawing Center in New York, on September 25, 2007, when two men, Tom McCarthy and the philosopher Simon Critchley, sat at a table in semidarkness and took turns reading “The Joint Statement of Inauthenticity,” latest manifesto of the International Necronautical Society (INS). The men identified themselves only as the society’s general secretary and chief philosopher. Their voices were flat, nasal, utterly British; they placed sudden emphasis on certain words. It was like listening to a Smiths song.

“We begin,” announced the general secretary, “with the experience of failed transcendence, a failure that is at the core of the General Secretary’s novels and the Chief Philosopher’s tomes. Being is not full transcendence, the plenitude of the One or cosmic abundance, but rather an ellipsis, an absence, an incomprehensibly vast lack scattered with—” and here the General Secretary tripped over his tongue, corrected himself, and continued,

—with debris and detritus. Philosophy as the thinking of Being has to begin from the experience of disappointment that is at once religious (God is dead, the One is gone), epistemic (we know very little, almost nothing; all knowledge claims have to begin from the experience of limitation) and political (blood is being spilt in the streets as though it were champagne).

On the scratchy live recording, the audience coughs nervously and is silent: there is not much else to be done when someone’s reading a manifesto at you. The Necronauts continue: through the brief (by now traditional) faux demolition of the Greek idealists, specifically Plato and Aristotle, who believed form and essence to be more real than anything else, and therefore perfect. But “if form is perfect,” asks the general secretary,

if it is perfection itself, then how does one explain the obvious imperfection of the world, for the world is not perfect n’est-ce pas? This is where matter—our undoing—enters into the picture. For the Greeks, the principle of imperfection was matter, hyle. Matter was the source of the corruption of form.

Necronauts, as you might guess from the name, feel differently. They are “modern lovers of debris” and what is most real for them is not form or God but the

brute materiality of the external world…. In short, against idealism in philosophy and idealist or transcendent conceptions of art, of art as pure and perfect form, we set a doctrine of…materialism….

So, while Dorian Gray projects his perfect image into the world, Necronauts keep faith with the “rotting flesh- assemblage hanging in his attic”; as Ernest Shackleton forces his dominance fantasy onto the indifferent polar expanse, Necronauts concern themselves with the “blackened, frostbitten toes he and his crew were forced to chop from their own feet, cook on their stove and eat.” And so on. Like Chuck Ramkissoon, they have a motto: “We are all Necronauts, always, already,” which is recycled Derrida (as “blood like champagne” is recycled Dostoevsky). That is to say, we are all death-marked creatures, defined by matter—though most of us most of the time pretend not to be.

In Remainder, the INS general secretary puts his theoretical ideas to lively yet unobtrusive use, for the Re-enactor himself does not realize he is a Necronaut; he is simply a bloke, and, with Naz facilitating at his side he hopes, like the rest of us, to dominate matter, the better to disembody it. To demonstrate the folly of this, in the middle of the novel Remainder allows itself a stripped-down allegory on religion, staged in an auto shop where the Re-enactor has gone to fix a flat tire. While there, he remembers his windshield washer reservoir is empty and asks for a fill-up. Two liters of blue liquid are poured into the reservoir but when he presses the “spurter button” nothing spurts. The two liters haven’t leaked but neither do they appear to be in the reservoir:

They’d vaporized, evaporated. And do you know what? It felt wonderful. Don’t ask me why: it just did. It was as though I’d just witnessed a miracle: matter—these two litres of liquid—becoming un-matter—not surplus matter, mess or clutter, but pure, bodiless blueness. Transubstantiated.

A few minutes later, the engine catches, matter has its inevitable revenge (“It gushed all over me: my shirt, my legs, my groin”), and transubstantiation shows itself for what it is: the beautiful pretense of the disappeared remainder. In the later re-enactment of this scene (which Naz restages in an empty hangar at Heathrow, running it on loop for weeks) the liquid really disappears, sprayed upward into an invisible fine mist by the Re-enactor’s hired technicians.

McCarthy and his Necronauts are interested in tracing the history of the disappeared remainder through art and literature, marking the fundamental division between those who want to extinguish matter and elevate it to form (they “try and ingest all of reality into a system of thought, to eat it up, to penetrate and possess it. This is what Hegel and the Marquis de Sade have in common”) and those who want to let matter matter:

To let the orange orange and the flower flower…. We take the side of things and try and evoke their nocturnal, mineral quality. This is, for us, the essence of poetry as it is expressed in Francis Ponge, the late Wallace Stevens, Rilke’s Duino Elegies and some of the personae of Pessoa, of trying (and failing) to speak about the thing itself and not just ideas about the thing, of saying “jug, bridge, cigarette, oyster, fruitbat, windowsill, sponge.”

That “failing” there is very important. It’s what makes a book like Remainder—which is, after all, not simply a list of proper nouns—possible. Of course, it’s not unusual for avant-garde fiction writers to aspire to the concrete quality of poetry. Listening to the general secretary annunciate his list, emphasizing its clarity and unloveliness, I thought of Wis awa Szymborska, in particular the opening of “The End and The Beginning”:

After every war

someone has to clean up.

Things won’t

straighten themselves up, after all.

Someone has to push the rubble

to the sides of the road,

so the corpse-laden wagons

can pass.

Someone has to get mired

in scum and ashes,

sofa springs,

splintered glass,

and bloody rags.

Someone must drag in a girder

to prop up a wall.

Someone must glaze a window,

rehang a door.

Even those who are allergic to literary theory will recognize the literary sensibility, echoed in this poem, of which the INS forms an extreme, yet comprehensible, part. The connection: a perverse acknowledgement of limitations. One does not seek the secret, authentic heart of things. One believes—as Naipaul had it—that the world is what it is, and, moreover, that all our relations with it are necessarily inauthentic. As a consequence, such an attitude is often mistaken for linguistic or philosophical nihilism, but its true strength comes from a rigorous attention to the damaged and the partial, the absent and the unspeakable. Remainder reserves its finest quality of attention for the well-worn street surface where the black man dies, its “muddy, pock-marked ridges,” the chewing gum, bottle tops, and gum, the “tarmac, stone, dirt, water, mud,” all of which forms, in the mind of the narrator, an almost overwhelming narration (“There’s too much here, too much to process, just too much“) that is yet a narration defined by absence, by partial knowledge, for we can only know it by the marks it has left.

Remainder recognizes, with Szymborska’s poem, that we know, in the end, “less than little/And finally as little as nothing,” and so tries always to acknowledge the void that is not ours, the messy remainder we can’t understand or control—the ultimate marker of which is Death itself. We need not ever read a word of Heidegger to step in these murky waters. They flow through the “mainstream” of our canon. Through the negations of Beckett. The paradoxical concrete abstractions of Kafka. The scatological thingy-ness of Joyce at his most antic. The most famous line of Auden (“Poetry makes nothing happen”). They flow through our own lives in the form of anxiety, which is, in Freud’s opinion, the only real emotion we have.

For those who are theory-minded the INS manifesto in its entirety (only vaguely sketched out here) is to be recommended: it’s intellectually agile, pompous, faintly absurd, invigorating, and not at all new. As celebrations of their own inauthenticity, the INS members freely admit their repetitions and recycling tendencies, stealing openly from Blanchot, Bataille, Heidegger, Derrida, and, of course, Robbe-Grillet. Much of what is to be found in the manifesto is more leisurely expressed in the chief philosopher’s own “tomes” (in particular Very Little, Almost Nothing: Death, Philosophy, Literature2 ).

As for the general secretary, within the provocations of the INS he is a theoretical fundamentalist, especially where the material practicalities of publishing are concerned. In 2003, he expelled two INS members for signing to publishers, charging that they had “become complicit with a publishing industry whereby the ‘writer’ becomes merely the executor of a brief dictated by corporate market research, reasserting the certainties of middle-brow aesthetics.” It will be interesting to see what happens to these ideas now that McCarthy’s material circumstances are somewhat changed: in 2007, Remainder went to Vintage Books in America and picked up a Film Four production deal.

Still, that part of the INS brief that confronts the realities of contemporary publishing is not easily dismissed. When it comes to literary careers, it’s true: the pitch is queered. The literary economy sets up its stall on the road that leads to Netherland, along which one might wave to Jane Austen, George Eliot, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Richard Yates, Saul Bellow. Rarely has it been less aware (or less interested) in seeing what’s new on the route to Remainder, that skewed side road where we greet Georges Perec, Clarice Lispector, Maurice Blanchot, William Burroughs, J.G. Ballard. Friction, fear, and outright hatred spring up often between these two traditions—yet they have revealing points of connection. At their crossroads we find extraordinary writers claimed by both sides: Melville, Conrad, Kafka, Beckett, Joyce, Nabokov. For though manifestos feed on rupture, artworks themselves bear the trace of their own continuity.

So it is with Remainder: the Re- enactor’s obsessive, amoral re-enactions have ancestors: Ahab and his whale, Humbert and his girl, Marlow’s trip downriver. The theater of the absurd that Remainder lays out is articulated with the same careful pedantry of Gregor Samsa himself. In its brutal excision of psychology it is easy to feel that Remainder comes to literature as an assassin, to kill the novel stone dead. I think it means rather to shake the novel out of its present complacency. It clears away a little of the dead wood, offering a glimpse of an alternate road down which the novel might, with difficulty, travel forward. We could call this constructive deconstruction, a quality that, for me, marks Remainder as one of the great English novels of the past ten years.

4.

Maybe the most heartening aspect of Remainder is that its theoretical foundations prove no obstacle to the expression of a perverse, self-ridiculing humor. In fact, the closer it adheres to its own principles, the funnier it is. Having spent half the book in an inauthentic building with re-enactors re-enacting, the Re-enactor decides he needs a change:

One day I got an urge to go and check up on the outside world myself. Nothing much to report.

A minimalist narrative refusal that made me laugh out loud. Remainder resists its readers, but it does so with a wry smile. And then, toward its end, a mysterious “short councillor” appears, wearing this same wry smile, like one of David Lynch’s dwarfs, and finally asks the questions—and receives the answers—that the novel has denied us till now. Why are you doing this? How does it make you feel? In a moment of frankness, we discover that the Re-enactor’s greatest tingle arrived with his smallest re-enactment: standing in a train station, holding his palms outward, begging for money of which he had no need. It gave him the sense “of being on the other side of something. A veil, a screen, the law—I don’t know….”

One of the greatest authenticity dreams of the avant-garde is this possibility of becoming criminal, of throw-ing one’s lot in with Jean Genet and John Fante, with the freaks and the lost and the rejected. (The notable exception is J.G. Ballard, author of possibly the greatest British avant-garde novel, The Atrocity Exhibition, who raised three children in the domestic tranquility of a semidetached house in Shepperton.) For the British avant-garde, autobiographical extremity has become a mark of literary authenticity, the drug use of Alexander Trocchi and Anna Kavan being at least as important to their readers as their prose. (The INS demands that “all cults of authenticity…be abandoned.” It does not say what is to be done about the authenticity cult of the avant-garde.)

In this, the Re-enactor has a true avant-garde spirit; he wants to become the thing beyond the pale, the inconvenient remainder impossible to contain within the social economy of meaning. But no: it is still not quite enough. The only truly authentic indivisible remainder, the only way of truly placing yourself outside meaning, is through death, the contemplation of which brings Remainder, in its finale, to one of its few expressionist moments. It also enacts a strange literary doubling, meeting Netherland head-on:

Forensic procedure is an art form, nothing less. No I’ll go further: it’s higher, more refined, than any art form. Why? Because it’s real. Take just one aspect of it—say the diagrams…. They’re records of atrocities. Each line, each figure, every angle—the ink itself vibrates with an almost intolerable violence, darkly screaming from the silence of white paper: something has happened here, someone has died.

“It’s just like cricket,” I told Naz one day.

“In what sense?” he asked.

“Each time the ball’s been past,” I said, “and the white lines are still zinging where it hit, and the seam’s left a mark, and…”

“I don’t follow,” he said.

“It…well, it just is,” I told him. “Each ball is like a crime, a murder. And then they do it again, and again and again, and the commentator has to commentate, or he’ll die too.”

In Netherland cricket symbolized the triumph of the symbol over brute fact (cricket as the deferred promise of the American Dream). In Remainder cricket is pure facticity, which keeps coming at you, carrying death, leaving its mark. Everything must leave a mark. Everything has a material reality. Everything happens in space. As you read it, Remainder makes you preternaturally aware of space, as Robbe-Grillet did in Jealousy, Remainder‘s obvious progenitor. Like the sportsmen whose processes it describes and admires, Remainder “fill[s] time up with space,” by breaking physical movements, for example, into their component parts, slowing them down; or by examining the layers and textures of a wet, cambered road in Brixton as a series of physical events, rather than emotional symbols. It forces us to recognize space as a nonneutral thing—unlike Realism, which ignores the specificities of space. Realism’s obsession is convincing us that time has passed. It fills space with time.

Something has happened here, someone has died. A trauma, a repetition, a death, a commentary. Remainder wants to create zinging, charged spaces, stark and pared-down, in the manner of those ancient plays it clearly admires—The Oresteia, Oedipus at Colonus, Antigone. The ancients, too, trouble themselves with trauma, repetition, death, and commentary (by chorus), with the status of bodies before the law, with what on earth is to be done with the remainder. But the ancients always end in tragedy, with the indifferent facticity of the world triumphantly crushing the noble, suffering self.

Remainder ends instead in comic declension, deliberately refusing the self-mythologizing grandeur of the tragic. Fact and self persist, in comic misapprehension, circling each other in space (literally, in a hijacked plane). And it’s precisely within Remainder‘s newly revealed spaces that the opportunity for multiple allegories arises: on literary modes (How artificial is Realism?), on existence (Are we capable of genuine being?), on political discourse (What’s left of the politics of identity?), and on the law (Where do we draw our borders? What, and whom, do we exclude, and why?). As surface alone, though, so fully imagined, and so imaginative, Remainder is more than sufficient.

Previously: ink sets

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Link: the neistat brothers

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