Saturday, January 27, 2007

Preternaturally Exotic Extremes

In Colorado this year, winter has come into the lair like a lion on dexedrine. I'm still trying to figure out how I escaped these five major snowstorms. Good timing? Instinct? Intuitive body transfer into other (cyber)psychogeographical regions?

When the snow piles up like never before, and you've been hiding out at Hawaii's best swimming beach, the nature of "being digital" changes.

The nomadic net artist, role-playing this faux identity who goes by the name Melting Plastic Fantastic Time, teleports his "energy package" through seasonal drifts and turns himself into an upside-down inside-out medium, one whose jet-lag consciousness makes even the simplest things much more complicated. All of a sudden, that gorgeous Rocky Mountain sunset that you flew back into, and that you may have assumed was as real as it gets, has now been manipulated by the trickery of "apparatus consciousness" and the smooth application of poetic filters customized for the occasion.

For more on this head-in-the-clouds hallucinatory trickery, check out the latest update at Mark Amerika Nature Photography where "We Take Pictures, So You Don't Have To."

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Wednesday, January 24, 2007


Alt-X, which I have been actively publishing since I founded it over 14 years ago, is one of the oldest surviving net / art / writing sites on the Internet. Many others have come and gone, including significant sites like FEED and SUCK.

When was Alt-X celebrating its big mo in super prime time as a viable force in net culture? Most of our serious early readers would say circa 1996-1999 (when we became something of a media darling -- "the literary publishing model of the future" according to Publishers Weekly). We experienced a further jump in traffic and attention with the launch of the Alt-X Press in 2001.

My favorite Alt-X "splash page" is from about 1999. Although the 2007 version is quite popular with the second-generation net art crowd.

Many of the early Alt-X files (Alt X-Files?) are now archived in their various sections, including Virtual Imprints, Hyper-X, and Black Ice. The same will soon happen with Alt-X Audio ("Deep Crates"). Meanwhile, the electronic book review (ebr), Alt-X's stellar new media forum on digital art and writing, reminds us that
everything that happens, happens now [...]
and that a living archive can always reinvent itself by constantly increasing its output over time, as with the case of the sudden blossoming of new essays in the decade-old "Critical Ecologies" thread. As the "thread editor" writes:
Initially presented as a thread in two parts, green and grey, Critical Ecologies continues to explore convergences among natural and constructed ecosystems, green politics and grey matter, silicon chips and sand. A 2004 Festschrift, with over a dozen essays on Joseph McElroy, hints at the literary implications of an ecological, medial turn in literary theory.
Then there is the digital-friendly Alt-X Press which I also publish. The press launched as an ebook and print on-demand (POD) series in 2001 and has now generated over a 200,000 downloads. In fact, our top downloaded ebook, HARD_CODE: Narrating the Network Society, had 2187 downloads on January 6th alone.

From Eugene Thacker's introduction to the HARD_CODE anthology:
What does this have to do with "literature"? Nothing. And that's the problem. If the so-called avant-gardes and experimental fiction writers have anything to teach us, it's that a subversion of the dominant modes of language in a given moment is also a technical, tactical re-programming of the codes of language. Those codes are not only tied to the social items, black boxes - technologies which claim to be both transparent and neutral. Programming, hacking, hand-coding - whatever you want to call it - these are all modes of working through language at the back-end level. There is a lot to be learned from the seemingly routine practices of computer programmers: database security, systems analysts, bioinformatics, e-trading consultants, video game designers, CG artists, encryption experts. Nietzsche's dictum that language speaks us has mutated. We don't simply use infotech as a tool to make our lives easier; infotech codes us on a daily basis.
Net art + fiction + hactivism + programmatological language riffing = HARD_CODE.

With that in mind, who is the one who shape-shifts the malleable construct of digital identity / persona?

Would that be the one we call artist-medium? But then that would make everyone an artist-medium, right?

Although we have a moratorium on new manuscripts, Alt-X Press still has a couple of new titles in the pipeline that I hope to be able to publish in 2007 and 2008, so stay tuned for those announcements.

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Monday, January 22, 2007

You, Me, and Everybody Else We Want to Know

Just when I think I'm being innovative in the blog / art / theory category, integrating this figure I call the digital flux persona into the world of online social networking where one can engage in acts of hyperimprovisational performance-writing, I realize that I am just another "pop intellectual" who can watch someone else, more journalistic (paternalistic?) in nature, take these ideas and mainstream them for middle-mind consumption. For example, this weekend in the New York Times, an article called "Big Media’s Crush on Social Networking" says:
Social networking, on the other hand, is something potentially deeper — it represents a way to live one’s life online. In many ways, it is the two-dimensional version of what sites like Second Life aspire to be in 3-D: the digital you. And that ties to another earnestly overused term of art at the moment: engagement.

Engagement basically refers to the amount of time people spend doing one thing — reading a magazine, watching a TV show — but also to the depth of their participation. Do they vote on “American Idol”? Flock to Disneyland? Go to the NBC Web site after “The Office” to watch deleted scenes? Or, now, do they integrate their favorite media into their digital personas?
And if we believe Time magazine, then this Digital Persona of the Year is also YOU. But how can that be? Or, more importantly, how can the digital persona you are role-playing ever really be YOU?

My sense is that the whole reason the "Youtube" lifestyle is so popular is because it's a great way to show the world there really is no you, that you are going down the tubes with rest of your culture. And that's a good thing. In fact, in prior posts at Professor VJ, we have referred to this online/offline intermedia integration as a kind of "trendy hybridization" that is partly informed by something I call the Youtube Effect. But it goes much deeper than just coming up with a catchy term (although that helps too). Quoting Professor VJ, with "the emergence of digitally constructed identities, fictional personas, meta-histories, narrative mythologies, and collaborative networks (both anonymous and pseudonymous) as strategic aspects of naming / performing the Artist-Medium-Instrument-Body," we now see ourselves self-reflexively writing out or otherwise performing our roles as nomadic biomorphs in the networked space of flows. YOU is as much of a fiction as ME is (and by muttering the words "ME is," I am, in effect, initiating the fictionalization process).

Constructing digital personas who are fluid decharacterizations of "self" that continuously initialize this fictionalization process in cyberspace, relates to what Italo Calvino, writing out his role as writer, refers to as "the selection of a psychological attitude, a rapport with the world, a tone of voice, a homogeneous set of linguistic tools, the data of experience and the phantoms of the imagination--in a word, a style." And once you start playing with your digital persona as an object lesson in style, then you are moving way beyond the YOU of Time, and entering the hallucinatory otherspace of not-me.

ME is ... not-me.

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