Friday, November 23, 2007

The Renewable Tradition

Quoting from the short story "Death of the Novel":
Obviously there's no progress in art. Progress toward what? The avant-garde is a convenient propaganda device, but when it wins the war everything is avant-garde, which leaves us just about where we were before. The only thing that's sure is that we move, and as we move we leave things behind--the way we felt yesterday, the way we talked about it. Form is your footprints in the sand when you look back.
The author of the story, Ronald Sukenick, uses this quote from his fiction to introduce his artist essay "The New Tradition" which is collected in the groundbreaking anthology of artist poetics entitled Surfiction.

"The New Tradition," Sukenick used to tell me, is the one we're always on the cusp of inventing, yet again, i.e. an expansion of "the rival tradition in literature." For those who may not have encountered this kind of literary thinking before, this is what the rivals of traditional literature do: they take on literature so as to destroy it, and in the process, remixologically inhabit its historical body, pushing tender buttons all along the way. Sometimes the literary-minded remixologists find themselves innovating the mediumistic qualities of the form they are working in without even necessarily thinking about it (this happened to me when I was writing my first novel, The Kafka Chronicles, that is, I was completely unaware of a so-called "New Tradition" and was just writing the only way I knew how to). Other times we who create innovative works of literary art are fully self-conscious of the rival lineage we spring forth from and knowingly take on other remixological styles just to see what happens when we move inside other writer's bodies (of work). Perhaps this is when remixologically inhabiting the spirit of another writer's stylistic tendencies or at least the gesture [gist?] of their thought feels more like an embodied praxis. For instance, I remember Sukenick in The Endless Short Story remixologically inhabiting the 1967 style of Norman Mailer. My second novel Sexual Blood inhabits the style of Lautréamont. Kathy Acker took on the body-language of Faulkner, Rimbaud, and Verlaine, to name just a few.

In this regard, much of what I write when composing my fiction, including the "Distributed Fictions" planted inside META/DATA, inhabits the early developments of Laurence Sterne (and in particular his work Tristram Shandy) and Lautréamont (all of what little he wrote). For those who follow such things, this will make perfect sense since one of these writers is the Godfather of digressionary [hyper-textual] fiction (Sterne) and the other is the Prince of Playgiarism (Lautréamont). Sukenick himself would be quick to point out Henry Miller as the Godfather of a pseudo-autobiographical fictional style that leads the disappearing writer into acts of creative composition. In an email dialogue I had with Sukenick, he said that "Miller was the one who woke me up to the fact that words on the page can be a vital extension of the life of the writer and therefore of the life of the reader." The "New Tradition" Sukenick wrote about in both his fiction and artist poetics attempts to renew literature's potential vitality within a cultural context that, one now has to seriously wonder, may be preformatted to kill literature as such.

Having said that, the issue he and I always traded notes on was "How can the vitality of writing survive in electronic/networked environments?" We were not overly concerned about "saving literature for literature's sake." More important, and perhaps Mailer would have concurred, was saving our own asses by expanding the concept of writing so that it too could infiltrate and have influence on the emerging digital culture. If literature wanted to come along for the ride, then (conjuring the spirit of Mailer circa "Armies of the Night") The Novelists would not stop it from doing so. As long as we are left to our incandescence, our satori, our hallucinatory language adventures, then literature is welcome to join us at its own risk. As much as we would be happy to kill it en route ourselves (this is not a job for Corporate America and its Cable News / Hollywood Sensationalism / Facebook Fakeout culture, it's for The Novelists!), we must accept the fact that it has earned our respect just for having survived this long and, like your rich old man with shiny new tooth implants champing at the bit, if it is hungry for more historical relevance, so be it. We will even acknowledge its tough guy stubbornness till the day it dies.

Still, there are many ways of out-surviving literature per se while expanding the power of writing to hack into the abyss and transform the world. As always, one must persist and never stop hacking the system (this system is not necessarily just the Big Bad Cocoon of Institutionalized Technocapitalism either -- it's just as much a biological system, like the one you're swimming in right now). Taking on the stylistic writing gestures of other artists and then remixologically manipulating them in some ancient form of "realtime" requires practice. Moving in and out of these "ghost tendencies" that mark the outlines of a body language once performed by another writer of the past also necessitates a certain amount of experience. I think of it as body experience, the gesture of writing embedded in muscle memory, something that feels like a deep interiorization of someone else's rhythm. What I learned from Sukenick and Acker, for example, came both from being with them in person and reading them at a distance. Reading their bodies and moving through their books with them kept me on my game. Engaging in dialogue with them, in person, and via email, spurred on more pseudo-autobiographical codework. "You're on fire," Acker told me in the first email I ever received from her. She was right (and knew it).

These artists were the ones who taught me how to haunt the texts that came before me, even as these same texts haunted me back. Think of it as reciprocal literary ghostbusting but with a twist: by creating new iterations of "performance writing" modeled after the resonant styles of the past, contemporary remixologists carry on the next phase of the Renewable Tradition (a "next phase" that opens itself up to the hacking priorities of other remixologists).

By replacing the "new tradition" in writing with a formidable "renewable tradition" in electronic remixology or what Gregory Ulmer calls electracy, we open up future channels of distribution that are fueled by "renewable energy sources" and can begin imagining how the future forms of fiction(al) performance might emerge as "hybrid vehicles" to transport our digital personas in. How would a contemporary remixologist, divining their own just-in-time context for the compositional field of the moment, jump-start a renewable tradition made out of all of the "renewable energy sources" of the past, present, and yes, future?

How could artist-researchers developing new practice-based initiatives in remixology turn the immediate future into a renewable source of "energy" that fuels their unconscious readiness potential?

Success in this area of research could lead to the artist becoming a valuable postproduction medium.

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Sunday, November 18, 2007

Economy of Motion

Are contemporary remixologists genuinely performing a new author function, that is, are they abandoning the role of literary content provider for something more personalized like unconsciously becoming a postproduction medium performing their metafictional tricks in "unrealtime"?

Italo Calvino writes:
Writing always presupposes 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. The author is an author insofar as he enters into a role the way an actor does and identifies himself with that projection of himself at the moment of writing.
And yet the writer who self-identifies as writer must, out of necessity, disappear when writing and, in disappearing, transmit the work they intuitively generate as part of their embodied praxis.

Embodied praxis points to the writer-cum-remixologist as body-image. Transmitting the work takes place body-image to body-image. I don't even have to know you're there to know that this data I am porting through the network is now infiltrating your "boundaries" -- but then again, maybe you have no boundaries, or are experimenting with them so as to see how much fluid inmixing you can tolerate. As our transmissions get absorbed into the networked space of flows and become more source material for the artificial intelligentsia to consider sampling from for a wide array of remixological purposes, our boundaries become more porous than ever. This is when the body-image becomes a receiving station, a code processor, a persona emulator, and a hyperimprovisational performer. In other words: a postproduction medium.

This does not mean we are destined to resemble the computers and/or "thinking machines" we jam with when engaged in live, remixological sessions. Nor does it mean that the brain is a kind of software that we program with metaphorical "allegorhythms" to selectively filter/render the data of everyday life. And no, our legs are not robo-limbs. But we do process things as we navigate our way through the multilinear routings of our networked narrative environment. Think of your ongoing "story" as a generative fiction that operates on the uncertainty principle while riding that wave of quantum undecidability one always seems to find as they mobilize their neurolingusitic thought-processes into whatever open compositional field they happen to playing in. (Sukenick in OUT: "I want to write a book like a cloud that changes as it goes." Skywriting, anyone?)

Perhaps it is true of most poets that their (our) heads are in the clouds (as I have been told repeatedly). I take that as a compliment. It does not mean that we are not grounded. "Grounding out" is part of daily practice and, in my case, I try to perform my version of "physical well-being" with as little waste as possible. This means I must sustain my optimum "economy of motion" -- something athletes, particularly runners, are aware of, as is Kung Fu legend Bruce Lee. Interestingly enough, though, it's damn near impossible to physically train yourself to ground out with optimum economy of motion (unless you're Lance Armstrong in which case you can improve your efficiency 1% a year over seven years). In general, fluid economy of motion is most likely something that you are born with, the with in this case being not just physical advantage but possibly intuitive or unconscious advantage too (though that's just my projection -- there is no scientific data available to prove the point).

What does this have to do with writing-cum-remixology?

Could there be a way for us to measure economy of motion in relation to remixology so that we can begin to value the output of one remixological style over another?

Let's say that you are a "creative writer" or net artist or live A/V performer or interdisciplinary "code-smith" who accesses all available source material to cobble together your new work of conceptual sculpture (something that can be manifested as a print or e-book, a work of net art available for free online, a VJ gig in the Canary Islands, or an installation in a gallery space).

How would we determine the variance of value for each of these outputs? That is, how would we differentiate the stylistic tendencies of artists who remixologically inhabit multi-media forms of language and how would we measure the value of their work as postproduction mediums?

Does it all come down to a matter of taste?

(Is taste the ancient bugaboo of aesthetics per se?)

How about PR myth-making, insider trading via friendly art-world criticism, and power marketing?

That's certainly another way of imagining (remixologically inhabiting) an artist's "measure" within the logic of late technocapitalism.

Could there be another way for us to create a "sense of measure" for the contemporary remixologist, that is, can we now begin to theoretically fictionalize a more aesthetically-fit "lifestyle practice" in terms of economy of motion so that we can see how one remixologist performs more efficiently than another?

Even if we could begin to do that, how would it translate into "real-world" value and what is "real-world" value in this sense? MTV Real World value? Street cred? Personal self-esteem? A genuine smile that invites you in so that you can really start getting down, body-image to body-image?

If we approach our ongoing "story" as a generative fiction that operates on the uncertainty principle then the idea of "real-world" value becomes supple. By remaining flexible while simultaneously using select new media apparatuses to help us expand our range, we can grab what we need from our data samples and remix our lives so that we can begin envisioning future forms of body-image that we intuitively know we are programming ourselves to become. This kind of data-sampling, analysis, remixology, and the targeted distribution or "channeling" that increases the likelihood of meme-momentum, will not happen in the traditional scientific lab. Experiential lab performances in this emerging field of remixological research cannot succeed within the confines of conventional scientific platforms where the limits placed on the poetic imagination are always "under observation." Rather, imagine a liminal space where Conceptual Sculpture meets Embodied Praxis in a field of play where the ease of being who you are translates into an economy of motion, where the (post)production of presence starts having its say. Get to know your economy of motion, learn how to use it unconsciously while riding it out within the context of the uncertainty principle, and you just may find yourself making new discoveries (the idea is not to prove that your ongoing "story" as a generative fiction that operates on the uncertainty principle is reconfiguring the way we measure value, but to live it, experientially, in a computer-supported collaborative work environment and to share your observations via remixologically composed stories that are "channeled" [distributed] via the networked space of flows).

The key is to move through your networked narrative environment with as little waste as possible. Forget the accursed share and the excessive expenditures that make it easy to believe that "nothing ventured, nothing gained." We can always party like it's 1999 (or 1929 for that matter). But moving within the economy of motion is venturing enough, assuming you are simultaneously developing your remixological style. It's lean and green. Moving or remixologically inhabiting narrative space within an ideal economy of motion is moving away from what's always gaining on you. In an ideal world, how you move (how you remix your body-image) would translate into measurable value. And with an intuitively generated economy of motion activated by the fringe-flow sensations of the body-image role-playing a "mover-shaker" you don't even have to know how to move to move. You just move (and in moving, move beyond knowing per se as well as beyond meaning per se while still activating your unconscious creative potential as the optimum mode of presence, one that is performed in a hyeprintuitive state of perpetual postproduction).

Which reminds me: "What role would proprioception play in all of this?"

In his book, "Artist of Life," Bruce Lee writes that his martial arts practice is driven by an ECONOMY OF FORM in relation to an ECONOMY OF MOTION (all caps are his):
The less confident we are in ourselves, the less we are in touch with ourselves and the world, the more we want to control.


Gestalt therapy = phenomenological approach (awareness of what is) + behavioral approach (behavior in the now)
Lee tells us that we need to initiate progressive, harmonious forward motion that minimizes wasted movement while perfecting technique (embodying praxis) but that we still must "use variety" (or, in the terminology of this blog, we must develop multiple amd hybridized styles of remixological practice).

In his handwritten notes on Gestalt Therapy, the artist Bruce Lee writes:
Once you have a character, you have developed a rigid SYSTEM. Your behavior becomes petrified, predictable, and you lose your ability to cope freely with the world with all your resources. You are predetermined just to cope with events in one way, namely, as your character prescribes. So it seems a paradox when I say that the richest person, the most productive, creative person, is a person who has NO CHARACTER.
Those are excellent insights for those who really want to go somewhere without wasting any time.

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