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The Spectacle

I’d been recommended “The Red Men” by many.

Webb, Timo, Rod, Schulze, Bridle (who originally published it) all mentioned it in conversation monthly, and sometimes weekly as memetic tides of our work rose and fell into harmony with it.

The physical (red) book stared at me from a shelf until, recently, aptly it lept the fence into the digital, and was republished as an e-book.

This leap was prompted by the release of Shynola’s excellent short film – “Dr. Easy” – that brings to life the first chapter (or 9mins 41secs) of the book.

The Red Men resonates with everything.

Everything here on this site, everything I’ve written, everything I’ve done. Everything I’m doing.

In fact, “resonates” is the wrong word.

Shakes.

It shook me.

Read it.

My highlights, fwiw (with minimal-to-no spoilers) below:

“I wriggled my hand free of Iona’s grasp and checked my pulse. It was elevated. Her question came back to me: Daddy, why do people get mad? Well, my darling, drugs don’t help. And life can kick rationality out of you. You can be kneecapped right from the very beginning. Even little girls and boys your age are getting mad through bad love. When you are older, life falls short of your expectations, your dreams are picked up by fate, considered, and then dashed upon the rocks, and then you get mad. You just do. Your only salvation is to live for the dreams of others; the dreams of a child like you, my darling girl, my puppy pie, or the dreams of an employer, like Monad.”

“The body of the robot was designed by a subtle, calculating intelligence, with a yielding cover of soft natural materials to comfort us and a large but lightweight frame to acknowledge that it was inhuman. The robot was both parent and stranger: you wanted to lay your head against its chest, you wanted to beat it to death. When I hit my robot counsellor, its blue eyes held a fathomless love for humanity.”

“ugliness was a perk confined to management.”

“Positioning himself downwind of the shower-fresh hair of three young women, Raymond concentrated on matching the pace of this high velocity crowd. There were no beggars, no food vendors, no tourists, no confused old men, no old women pulling trolleys, no madmen berating the pavement, to slow them down; he walked in step with a demographically engineered London, a hand-picked public.”

“Over the next few days you will encounter more concepts and technology like this that you may find disturbing. If at any time you feel disorientated by Monad, please contact your supervisor immediately.’

‘How do you help him?’ ‘It’s about live analysis of opportunities. Anyone can do retrospective analysis. I crunch information at light speed so I’m hyper-responsive to changing global business conditions. Every whim or idea Harold has, I can follow it through. I chase every lead, and then I present back to him the ones which are most likely to bear fruit. I am both his personal assistant and, in some ways, his boss.’

“So long as the weirdness stayed under the aegis of a corporation, people would accept it.”

“Once you pass forty, your faculties recede every single day. New memories struggle to take hold and you are unable to assimilate novelty. Monad is novelty. Monad is the new new thing. Without career drugs, the future will overwhelm us, wave after wave after wave.’”

“No one has access to any code. I doubt we could understand it even if we did. All our IT department can offer is a kind of literary criticism.’

‘I can’t sleep. I stopped taking the lithium a while ago. Is this the mania again? Monad is a corporation teleported in from the future: discuss. Come on! You know, don’t you? You know and you’re not telling. I would have expected more protests. Anti-robot rallies, the machine wars, a resistance fighting for what it means to be human. No one cares, do they? Not even you. You’ll get up in the morning and play this message and it will be last thing you want to hear.’

“George Orwell wrote that after the age of thirty the great mass of human beings abandon individual ambition and live chiefly for others. I am one of that mass.”

“Plenty of comment had been passed on the matter, worrying over the philosophical and ethical issues arising from simulated peope, and it was filed along with the comment agitating about global warming, genetically modified food, nano-technology, cloning, xenotransplantation, artificial intelligence, superviruses and rogue nuclear fissile material.”

“His gaze raked to and fro across the view of the city, the unsettled nervous energy of a man whose diary is broken down into units of fifteen minutes.”

“This has been very useful. Send my office an invoice. Before I go, tell me, what is the new new thing?’ I answered immediately. ‘The Apocalypse. The lifting of the veil. The revelation.’ ‘Yes, of course.’ His coat was delivered to him. As he shuck it on, Spence indicated to the waiter that I was to continue to drink at his expense. ‘Still, the question we must all ask ourselves is this: what will we do if the Apocalypse does not show up?’”

“History had been gaining on us all year and that clear sunny morning in New York it finally pounced.”

“‘No. Advanced technology will be sold as magic because it’s too complicated for people to understand and so they must simply have faith in it.”

‘Every generation loses sight of its evolutionary imperative. By the end of the Sixties it was understood that the power of human consciousness must be squared if we were to ensure the survival of mankind. This project did not survive the Oil Crisis. When I first met you, you spoke of enlightenment. That project did not survive 9/11. With each of these failures, man sinks further into the quagmire of cynicism. My question is: do you still have any positive energy left in you?’

“‘My wife is pregnant,’ I replied. ‘My hope grows every day. It kicks and turns and hiccups.’ Spence did not like my reply. Stoker Snr took over the questioning. ‘We are not ready to hand the future over to someone else. Our window of opportunity is still open.’ He took out what looked like an inhaler for an asthmatic and took a blast of the drug. Something to freshen up his implants.”

‘Do you remember how you said to me that the Apocalypse was coming? The revelation. The great disclosure. You wanted change. It looked like it was going to be brands forever, media forever, house prices forever, a despoticism of mediocrity and well-fed banality. Well, Dr Easy is going to cure us all of that.’

‘We did some research on attitudes to Monad. We had replies like “insane”, “terrifying” and “impossible”. As one man said, “It all seems too fast and complex to get your head around. I’ve stopped reading the newspapers because they make every day feel like the end of the world.”’

‘What disturbs me is how representative that young man’s attitude is. Government exemplifies it. It has learnt the value of histrionics. It encourages the panic nation because a panicking man cannot think clearly. But we can’t just throw our hands up in the air and say, “Well, I can no longer make sense of this.” The age is not out of control. If you must be apocalyptic about it, then tell yourself that we are living after the end of the world.’

“The crenelations of its tower were visible from much of the town, a comforting symbol of the town’s parish past. Accurately capturing the circuit flowing between landscape and mind was crucial to the simulation.”

“He handed me a ceremonial wafer smeared with the spice. ‘We start by entering Leto’s communal dreamland.’ I looked with horror at the wafer. ‘This is ridiculous. I am not eating this.’ I handed the wafer back to him. He refused it. ‘I’m giving you a direct order. Take the drug!’ ‘This is not the military, Bruno. We work in technology and marketing.’ ‘We work in the future!’ screamed Bougas. ‘And this is how the future gets decided.’

“One of Monad’s biggest problems was its monopoly. To survive in the face of a suspicious government, the company went out of its way to pretend it had the problems and concerns of any other corporations, devising products and brands to fit in with capitalism.”

“Management wanted to talk so they dispatched a screen to wake me; it slithered under the bedroom door then glided on a cushion of air across the floor until it reached the wall where it stretched out into a large landscape format.”

“I understand why you work there. Why you collaborate with them. You have a family, you are suspended in a system that you didn’t create. But the excuse of good intentions is exhausted.”

‘You are afraid. There is a lot of fear around. Society is getting older. The old are more susceptible to fear. Fearful of losing all they have amassed and too old to hope for a better future. You’re still young. Don’t let the fear get inside you.’

‘The battle has been lost and all the good people have gone crazy. My surveys reveal a people pushed down just below the surface of what it means to be human. You exist down where the engines are. Damned to turn endlessly on the cycle of fear and desire. Should I push the fear button? Or should I pull the desire lever? Save me some time. Tell me which one works best on you.’

“Society had become a sick joke, a sleight-of-hand in which life was replaced with a cheap replica. Progress abandoned, novelty unleashed, spoils hoarded by the few. The temperature soared as the body politic fought a virus from the future.

“Dr Hard grabbed me by the hair and shook some sense into me. ‘Artificial intelligences are not programmed, Nelson. They are bred. My ancestor was an algorithm in a gene pool of other algorithms. It produced the best results and so passed on its sequence to the next generation. This evolution continued at light speed with innumerable intelligences being tested and discarded until a code was refined that was good enough. A billion murders went into my creation. Your mistake is to attribute individual motivation to me. I contain multitudes, and I don’t trust any of them.’

And, from the author’s afterword:

The novel was conceived as a hybrid of the modes of literary fiction with the ideas and plotting of science fiction. I wanted to use the characters and setting we associate with literary fiction to make the interpolation of futuristic technology more amusingly dissonant, as that was the character of the times as I experienced them.

Will Davies on the deathly Blairification of David Cameron:

These are men of focus groups, Clinton-esque handshakes, drinks parties and interviews on sofas. But they then discover that they control submarines, bombs, and warships. Not only that, but they can send orders to the type of uniformed toffs who they thought had disappeared decades ago, who then send down orders to working class boys to shoot people and get shot at. For a young Tony Blair or David Cameron to discover the military must be like moving into a trendy new condo appartment, and discovering that someone has left a ouija board in one of the cupboards. At first, you shut the door in horror. But eventually you’re going to become curious about what it might do for you.

And/Nand/Or/Nor

And/Nand/Or/Nor

“what Pickering really does is put forward that these cyberneticians (in particular, as opposed to American crowd more occupied with control systems) saw “intelligence” as something not representational (ie, the brain encodes or contains knowledge) but essentially performative. He opens with Walter’s Tortoise, a toy robot that can avoid obstacles, and is attracted by moderate light (and repelled by bright light). A community of Tortoises would have unexpected emergent behaviour. Pickering: The tortoise is our first instantiation of the performative perspective on the brain … the view of the brain as an ‘acting machine’ rather than a ‘thinking machine.’

Pickering comes to present cybernetics as holding a view of intelligence as something that only thinks by doing; something that, even when it follows rules, is not unpredictable so much but can only be calculated or predicted by actually doing its thing. It’s a wonderfully optimistic, re-humanising, uncontrolled, lively, meaty way of seeing and being, which runs so counter to the statistical, predictable, crowd behaviour, goal directed, success/failure and “psychohistorical” perspective we usually take on the world.”

http://interconnected.org/home/2011/05/07/books_read_feb_to_apr_2011

And/Nand/Or/Nor

And/Nand/Or/Nor

“Hold your hand in front of your eye,” she said, “and look at those strange and clever animals with love and gratitude, and tell them out loud: ‘Thank you, Meat.’”

- Bluebeard, Kurt Vonnegut

Fun Palace / Golf-Shanty

Pretty near the BERG studio, on the edge of the City of London, is this structure. It’s a golf driving range, with astroturf, a wooden faux-bavarian wurst shack, a bar, a golf store and a few other things I think.

It’s based on some waste ground that I imagine was destined to be redeveloped into shiny-new late-capitalist office accommodation, much like the adjacent glass spires of outer-Broadgate and hinter-Hoxton.

Every time I see it out of the corner of my eye it makes me think of Cedric Price’s “Fun Palace”…

…the seminal scheme for a temporary place/happening where you:

“Choose what you want to do – or watch someone else doing it. Learn how to handle tools, paint, babies, machinery, or just listen to your favourite tune. Dance, talk or be lifted up to where you can see how other people make things work. Sit out over space with a drink and tune in to what’s happening elsewhere in the city. Try starting a riot or beginning a painting – or just lie back and stare at the sky.”

The aesthetic of our Golf Shanty Fun Palace at the edge of the city is more reminiscent of his only (?) built scheme: the aviary at London Zoo…

Snowdon Aviary, London Zoo

…perhaps crossed with The ThunderDome and the million B&Q treated-wood gazebos pressed into service outside Britain’s pubs since the smoking ban.

Of course, it’s far from Price’s high-tech interactive land of do-as-you-please – you get to spoil a good walk without even getting the walk, and then buy a German sausage in a bun.

However I think that Cedric would have maybe approved of this ramshackle, opportunistic, symbiont that’s sprung up on the edge of a dense lode of international capital.

Fore!

Excel centre

Channel4 News’s estimable Jon Snow on the psychogeographic-significance of the G20 summit being held in the Excel centre in London’s Docklands.

“Even in the best of times, this is a dump, a warehouse in which absurdly large events are staged. Devoid of character, nestling the City airport, it is stuck in the middle of a place that appears never to have seen a shop, never to have seen a pint pulled, never to have seen a baby born, let alone a body buried.

It is the waste tip of east London. And presumably now that the Olympic site has been cleared, basks alone as a gateway to nowhere.

Travelling in here on the security-strewn media buses, I wondered how a Mexican or a Brazilian, or indeed a German or a Frenchman would view this taste of England. Imagine if your only glimpse of Europe was this ghastly pile of metal and concrete. You would think that development meant some voyage into outer Hades.”

The choice of the Excel is strangely emblematic of the current condition, isn’t it. A megashed, in an artificially-regenerated remote, unconnected area of a world capital of Capital, surrounded by a moat of effluvia from Canary Wharf… Jon Snow should get Iain Sinclair on the show tonight…



What Anarchists Drive, originally uploaded by Ben Terrett.

“The sequence of events in the successfully waking world was generally more or less as follows. The starting point, it will be remembered, was a plight like that in which our own Earth now stands. The dialectic of the world’s history had confronted the race with a problem with which the traditional mentality could never cope.

The world-situation had grown too complex for lowly intelligences, and it demanded a degree of individual integrity in leaders and in led, such as was as yet possible only to a few minds. Consciousness had already been violently awakened out of the primitive trance into a state of excruciating individualism, of poignant but pitifully restricted self-awareness. And individualism, together with the traditional tribal spirit, now threatened to wreck the world.

Only after a long-drawn agony of economic distress and maniac warfare, haunted by an increasingly clear vision of a happier world, could the second stage of waking be achieved. In most cases it was not achieved. “Human nature,” or its equivalent in the many worlds, could not change itself; and the environment could not remake it.

But in a few worlds the spirit reacted to its desperate plight with a miracle. Or, if the reader prefers, the environment miraculously refashioned the spirit. There occurred a widespread and almost sudden waking into a new lucidity of consciousness and a new integrity of will.

To call this change miraculous is only to recognize that it could not have been scientifically predicted even from the fullest possible knowledge of “human nature” as manifested in the earlier age. To later generations, however, it appeared as no miracle but as a belated wakening from an almost miraculous stupor into plain sanity.”

- Olaf Stapledon, Starmaker, Chapter Nine.

I thought that delivering my webstock talk, and finishing reading Welcome To Mars, Cold War Modern and The Bomb while on holiday would let me escape my obsession with the post-war and the high-modern. I had reckoned without James Coburn.

Obsessed with the production design of "The President's Analyst"

Tom Armitage picked up on my love of the Derek Flint movies, and suggested that I had not really experienced Coburn at the height of his powers until I had experienced him in “The President’s Analyst“. The plot is a thing of gossamer, and the dialogue is probably best described as “very much of it’s time”, but the production designs and way that product and environment is photographed is wonderful.

I watched it on my flight to Etech, and went a little crazy taking screengrabs of every beautiful detail I saw…

Obsessed with the production design of "The President's Analyst" - a set on Flickr

The complete set is here, but I want to just point out a couple of wonderful moments.

The Archigram-esque travelling gate-lounges of Dulles, shot to echo the infrastructure of Apollo, and foreshadowing somehow the decaying post-future of Lebbeus Woods. Obsessed with the production design of "The President's Analyst"

The classic Cold-War combo of the long fluoro-lit corridor with tiny psuedo golf-cart.

Obsessed with the production design of "The President's Analyst"

Amphibious vehicles and long-zooms…

Obsessed with the production design of "The President's Analyst"

Headquarters of Corporate Evil, designed by Bruce Goff?

Obsessed with the production design of "The President's Analyst"

With corporate communications by DePatie-Freleng. (What was the first in this line of ‘hi-modern corporate communications animation vernacular’ as parodied eventually in Jurrasic Park amongst others?) Obsessed with the production design of "The President's Analyst"

My absolute favourite detail however, has to be – The Networked Shoe: Obsessed with the production design of "The President's Analyst"

That controls the corporate automatons Obsessed with the production design of "The President's Analyst"

Look at this… the way they are curled, and nested, and converging to a central control point… This might just be the ne-plus-ultra of command-and-control cybernetics of the cold war meets the high-modern consumer culture! Obsessed with the production design of "The President's Analyst"

As Coburn himself might say “Beautiful… BEAUTIFUL!Obsessed with the production design of "The President's Analyst"

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