In the Flow

by Boris Groys

Via Verso: "In the early twentieth century, art and its institutions came under critique from a new democratic and egalitarian spirit. The notion of works of art as sacred objects was decried and subsequently they would be understood merely as things. This meant an attack on realism, as well as on the traditional preservative mission of the museum. Acclaimed art theorist Boris Groys argues this led to the development of “direct realism”: an art that would not produce objects, but practices (from performance art to relational aesthetics) that would not survive. But for more than a century now, every advance in this direction has been quickly followed by new means of preserving art’s distinction.
In this major new work, Groys charts the paradoxes produced by this tension, and explores art in the age of the thingless medium, the Internet. Groys claims that if the techniques of mechanical reproduction gave us objects without aura, digital production generates aura without objects, transforming all its materials into vanishing markers of the transitory present."

Via e-flux: "And that means precisely that contemporary art has become the medium for investigating the eventfulness of events: the different modes of the immediate experience of events, their relationship to documentation and archiving, the intellectual and emotional modes of our relationship to documentation, and so forth. Now, if the thematization of the eventfulness of the event has become, indeed, the main preoccupation of contemporary art in general and the museum of contemporary art in particular, it makes no sense to condemn the museum for staging art events. On the contrary, today the museum has become the main analytical tool for staging and analyzing the event as radically contingent and irreversible—amidst our digitally controlled civilization that is based on tracking back and securing the traces of our individual existence in the hope of making everything controllable and reversible. The museum is a place where the asymmetrical war between the ordinary human gaze and the technologically armed gaze not only takes place, but also becomes revealed—so that it can be thematized and critically theorized."

Thanks to Swantje Lichtenstein!

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Photo by Marisol Rodriguez.

Uncreative Writing

by Kenneth Goldsmith

Best book in years, and translated by my dear friend Prof. Dr. Swantje Lichtenstein. You can not afford to miss out on this one.

Via Brain Pickings: "Goldsmith echoes legendary designer Charles Eames, who famously advised to 'innovate only as a last resort,' and writes:

Having worked in advertising for many years as a ‘creative director,’ I can tell you that, despite what cultural pundits might say, creativity — as [it has] been defined by our culture with its endless parade of formulaic novels, memoirs, and films — is the thing to flee from, not only as a member of the ‘creative class’ but also as a member of the ‘artistic class.’ Living when technology is changing the rules of the game in every aspect of our lives, it’s time to question and tear down such clichés and lay them on the floor in front of us, then reconstruct these smoldering embers into something new, something contemporary, something — finally — relevant.

In addressing the most common contestations to his ideas about accepting all language as poetry by mere reframing — about what happens to the notion of authorship, about how careers and canons are to be established, about whether the heart of literature is reducible to mere algorithms — Goldsmith seconds a sentiment French polymath Henri Poincaré shared more then a century ago when he noted that to create is merely to choose wisely from the existing pool of ideas:

What becomes important is what you — the author — [decide] to choose. Success lies in knowing what to include and — more important — what to leave out. If all language can be transformed into poetry by mere reframing — an exciting possibility — then she who reframes words in the most charged and convincing way will be judged the best. I agree that the moment we throw judgment and quality out the window we’re in trouble. Democracy is fine for YouTube, but it’s generally a recipe for disaster when it comes to art. While all the words may be created equal — and thus treated — the way in which they’re assembled isn’t; it’s impossible to suspend judgment and folly to dismiss quality. Mimesis and replication [don’t] eradicate authorship, rather they simply place new demands on authors who must take these new conditions into account as part and parcel of the landscape when conceiving of a work of art: if you don’t want it copied, don’t put it online.

Ultimately, he argues that all of this is about the evolution — rather than the destruction — of authorship:

In 1959 the poet and artist Brion Gysin claimed that writing was fifty years behind painting. And he might still be right: in the art world, since impressionism, the avant-garde has been the mainstream. Innovation and risk taking have been consistently rewarded. But, in spite of the successes of modernism, literature has remained on two parallel tracks, the mainstream and the avant-garde, with the two rarely intersecting. Yet the conditions of digital culture have unexpectedly forced a collision, scrambling the once-sure footing of both camps. Suddenly, we all find ourselves in the same boat grappling with new questions concerning authorship, originality, and the way meaning is forged.

The rest of Uncreative Writing goes on to explore the history of appropriation in art, the emerging interchangeability between words and images in digital culture, the challenges of defining one’s identity in the vastness of the online environment, and many other pressing facets of what it means to be a writer — or, even more broadly, a creator — in the age of the internet."

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Invinite Jest

by David Foster Wallace

Via Infinite Summer: "There’s no wrong way to read Infinite Jest: front-to-back, upside-down, cut in half, or skipping around. But here are a few tips for the Infinite Jester.

Read the endnotes: Please. They are not boring bibliographic details, but rather an integral part of the text. And the bouncing back-and-forth is a feature, not a bug.
Use bookmarks: Yes bookmarks, plural: one for the main text and one for the endnotes. Doing so will save you hours of searching, and the aggravation of losing your place several times an hour.
Persevere to page 200: There are several popular way stations on the road to abandoning Infinite Jest. The most heavily trafficked by far is The Wardine Section. Where the opening pages of IJ are among the best written in the book, page 37 (and many pages thereafter) are in a tortured, faux-Ebonics type dialect. 'Wardine say her momma ain’t treat her right.' 'Wardine be cry.' Potentially offensive (if one wants to be offended), and generally hard to get through. Hang in there, ignore the regional parlance, and focus on what the characters are doing. Like most things in the book, you’ll need to know this later. Likewise for the other rough patches to be found in the first fifth of the novel.
Trust the author: Around page 50, you’re going to feel a sinking sense of dread, as it dawns on you how much stuff you’ll be asked to keep track of: lots of characters coming and going, subplots upon subplots, page long sentences, and more. You have to believe that what seems at first like a bunch of disconnected vignettes (like The Wardine Section) will in fact come together; that the connections among what seem like radically disparate plot lines really do make themselves apparent in time. But at first, it requires something of a focus on the local plot lines, and a leap of faith in the fact that the global picture will eventually resolve.
Flag, copy, or bookmark page 223: Page 223 of the novel contains some information that you will either need to internalize or refer to frequently to make sense of the narrative. Once you reach it, flag the page with a stickie, dogear the corner, photocopy the material, stick a (third) bookmark there –whatever will ensure that you can find this information when you need it.
Don’t do the thing you’re dying to do right now: Namely, flip to page 223 to see what we’re talking about. David Foster Wallace ordered the book the way he did for a reason, and part of step 4 above is respecting that. In fact, we encourage you to take the fingers-in-the-ears 'LA LA LA LA I CAN’T HEAR YOU' approach to spoilers in general.
Abuse your copy: When you are finished, 223 should be just one of many mutilated pages in your novel. Liberal use of tape flags, post-it notes, highlighting, or your anal-retentive page marking device of choice, as a means of keeping track of key passages you think you might like to come back to (or share with others), is encouraged. (Note: the preceding advice is not recommended for those reading on the Kindle.) If you can’t bring yourself to work over your only copy of Infinite Jest, consider investing in a second.
Keep notes: As if lugging around a book the size of a 2 br. 1¼ bath apartment isn’t enough, you may want to carry a notebook as well. You won’t always have the requisite Oxford English Dictionary within arm’s reach, you know.
Brush up on your Hamlet: It’s no coincidence that the first two words of Hamlet are 'Who’s there?' and the first two words of Infinite Jest are 'I am'. Even the novel’s title was lifted from the play.
As you read, it behooves you keep in mind the relationships between the characters in Shakespeare’s drama (the ghost, poor Yorick, etc.) and the central themes of the play. You can find a brief primer here.
Employ a reader’s guide: There are two companion guides that you may find helpful. One is Stephen Burn’s David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest: A Reader’s Guide. Burn’s guide is rather short (96 pages), but it includes a helpful chronology, as well as sections on the novel’s critical reception and key plot points.
Another guide is Greg Carlisle’s Elegant Complexity: A Study of David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest. [Full disclosure: Bucher is the editor & publisher of the Carlisle book.] Elegant Complexity is different than the Burn guide in that it offers a summary and exegesis on every section of the novel –and that it’s 512 pages long. Also included are chronologies, family trees, thematic discussions, and a map of the tennis academy.
Use online references: There are copious webpages out there that the first-time Jesters will find useful."

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Seeing through Death & Making Love

by Barry Long

"In the game of living, the rule is: everyone dies. You win by finding death before it finds you. The prize is life." Barry Long Seeing Through Death

"It is man’s world and he built it on the strength of sexual aggression. Male domination began in sex and in sex it continues unabated. Woman cannot alter this position by marching with banners or withdrawing from sex. She has tried all the means at her disposal down through the centuries; none has worked and none will. The solution is for her to be in command of love. That does not mean to be in command of the man. It means to know inside herself what is right and true and stick to that, even if it means the man leaves her. Woman is love. All she has to do is realise that, by giving up her self doubt and fear." Barry Long Making Love

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Lean in

by Sheryl Sandberg

Via Wikipedia: "Sheryl Sandberg released her first book, Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead, co-authored by Nell Scovell and published by Knopf on March 11, 2013. Lean In is a book for professional women to help them achieve their career goals and for men who want to contribute to a more equitable society."

Via TIME: "In 2003, Columbia Business School professor Frank Flynn and New York University professor Cameron Anderson ran an experiment. They started with a Harvard Business School case study about a real-life entrepreneur named Heidi Roizen. It described how Roizen became a successful venture capitalist by using her 'outgoing personality … and vast personal and professional network … [which] included many of the most powerful business leaders in the technology sector.' Half the students in the experiment were assigned to read Heidi’s story. The other half got the same story with just one difference—the name was changed from Heidi to Howard.

When students were polled, they rated Heidi and Howard as equally competent. But Howard came across as a more appealing colleague. Heidi was seen as selfish and not 'the type of person you would want to hire or work for.' This experiment supports what research has already clearly shown: success and likability are positively correlated for men and negatively correlated for women. When a man is successful, he is liked by both men and women. When a woman is successful, people of both genders like her less.

I believe this bias is at the very core of why women are held back. It is also at the very core of why women hold themselves back. When a woman excels at her job, both men and women will comment that she is accomplishing a lot but is 'not as well liked by her peers.' She is probably also too aggressive, 'not a team player', 'a bit political”; she 'can’t be trusted' or is 'difficult.' Those are all things that have been said about me and almost every senior woman I know.

The solution is making sure everyone is aware of the penalty women pay for success."

Sheryl Sandbergs TED talk: Why We Have Too Few Women Leaders

Thanks to Miriam Stein!

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The Lazy Man's Guide to Enlightenment

by Thaddeus Golas

Via The Lazy Man's Guide to Enlightenment: "I am a lazy man. Laziness keeps me from believing that enlightenment demands effort, discipline, strict diet, non-smoking, and other evidences of virtue. That's about the worst heresy I could propose, but I have to be honest before I can be reverent. I am doing the work of writing this book to save myself the trouble of talking about it.

There is an odd chance that this is what someone needs to read in order to feel better about himself. If you are a kind person and want to know what to expect when enlightenment strikes and why it comes to you, with or without psychedelic help, this is for you.

These are the rules of the game as I see them. I realize that many of us are opening up very fast these days, and one of the most common delusions we face is the belief that our sense of revelation is unique. The feeling of knowing the truth is not enough. My intention is not to pretend final truth, but to suggest certain simple attitudes that will work for anybody and stay with you in the most extreme freak-out or space-out, even when your mind is completely blown. These attitudes are so simple that I'm surrounding them with a picture of the universe to show why they work even when you don't believe they will.

The universe is so vast and complex that if we needed books like this to become enlightened, we'd never make it. But on the other hand the universe is so simple in design that there's no reason for anyone to be puzzled or unhappy. It's easy to control your existence, no matter how complicated it looks. I've abandoned the idea of writing this a number of times, on the ground that people didn't know it because they didn't want to. But in the end there is no more reason for not writing it than there is for writing it.

I am writing what I will want to read someday when I am stuck in a weird place. Several times on bummers I've thought: What could I say to someone in this state of mind that would mean anything? That's the kind of testing this information has had. There isn't a line in this book that is there just because it sounds beautiful. The information is practical and reliable. It has taken me and others safely through some extreme states of mind, and can be reduced to a few phrases that are simple enough to recall in any crisis. [...]

Every person who allows others to treat him as a spiritual leader has the responsibility to ask himself: Out of all the perceptions available to me in the universe, why am I emphasizing the ignorance of my brothers? What am I doing in a role where this is real? What kind of standards am I conceiving, in which so many people are seen to be in suffering, while I am the enlightened one?

These questions came to me with a great shock, and this is one way I might answer for myself: Everything that is happening in your body is happening on an infinite range of vibration levels. If you love your lack of information better than I love this knowledge, then you are on a higher level than I. There is absolutely no external evidence that will tell me how much you love yourself, because I am seeing you with the limited vision of my own vibrations. In that sense, what I see is myself."

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The Silence of Animals

by John Gray

Via Dangerous Minds: "For the so-called New Atheists, on the other hands, nothing exists you can’t just slap a word on, so their disbelief is a matter of having the word God, but not having an entity to affix it to (they’ve looked everywhere). Gray suggests an altogether more elevated position: 'Atheism does not mean rejecting belief in God. It means giving up belief in language as anything other than a practical convenience. The world is not a creation of language, but something that – like the God of the negative theologians – escapes language. Atheism is only a stage on the way to a more far-reaching scepticism.' (...)

John Gray: 'I do think of The Silence of Animals as a successor to Straw Dogs, though that only became clear to me as I wrote the book. I began it as an exploration of secular myth, especially the variety in which meaning is embodied in cumulative advance in time, but it soon became an attempt to dig deeper into the themes of the earlier book—in particular the idea of contemplation. The chief difference between the two books, from my point of view, is that by presenting contemplation as correlative to a life of action. The Silence of Animals is more positive in tone.' "

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Insectopedia

by Hugh Raffles

Via Insectopedia: "A stunningly original exploration of the ties that bind us to the beautiful, ancient, astoundingly accomplished, largely unknown, and unfathomably different species with whom we share the world.

Organized alphabetically with one entry for each letter, weaving together brief vignettes, meditations, and extended essays, Insectopedia travels through history and science, anthropology and travel, economics, philosophy, and popular culture to show how insects have triggered our obsessions, stirred our passions, and beguiled our imaginations."

Via The New York Times: "Insects are all around us. They are the most numerous animals on earth, yet we pay them scant attention. Few of us attend to their innate beauty. More often than not, they are seen as pests sent to plague us (with the notable exception of the now threatened honey bee). 'We simply cannot find ourselves in these creatures,' Raffles writes. 'The more we look, the less we know. They are not like us. They do not respond to acts of love or mercy or remorse. It is worse than indifference. It is a deep, dead space without reciprocity, recognition or redemption.' [...]

Raffles’s approach is almost perversely eclectic. His alphabetical entries range in subject matter from the personal disgust he feels when he discovers a cockroach sharing the shower in his Manhattan apartment to epic journeys into Asia and Africa and observing cricket-betting in Shanghai and locust-eating in Niger. His essays may take up 20 pages or a mere two paragraphs. But the most satisfying ones illuminate his subject via potted biographies of men and women who are passionate about insects.

In 'Chernobyl,' for instance, Raffles offers a cameo of Cornelia Hesse-­Honegger, a contemporary artist dedicated to creating near-perfect watercolors of insects deformed by nuclear fallout. This is sci-fi stuff: flies with legs growing out of their eyes, the kind of mutations that in any other animal would elicit our horrified response, yet which, because they occur in such small creatures, seem almost excusable because almost invisible. In the act of depicting them so exactingly, Hesse-Honegger, whose own child, we are told in an upsetting aside, was born with a club foot, 'discovers that the insect is deformed in ways she hadn’t noticed before.' Her aesthetic is that of concrete art, isolated images placed in a grid; her intent is a silent rebuke, a solemn challenge to a world that, even now, is turning again to nuclear power to solve its problems. [...]


Impossible to categorize, wildly allusive and always stimulating, “Insectopedia” suggests an Enlightenment amateur wandering around the world stocking his cabinet of curiosities, unrestricted by notions of disciplines or specializations. Its author is at one moment a scientist in the field, the next an art critic, then an acute historian. His is a disconcerting, fantastical, (multi-)eye-opening journey into another existence, and one thing is for sure: You will never look at a cockroach the same way again, even if it is sharing your morning shower."

Thanks to Nicolas Langlitz!

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A Brief History of Everything

by Ken Wilber

Via Shambhala Publications: "In a breathtaking trip from the Big Bang to the Postmodern world we inhabit, Ken Wilber examines the universe and our place in it—and comes up with an accessible and entertaining account of how it all fits together. Along the way he sheds light not only on the great cosmic questions but on various contentious issues of our day, such as environmental ethics, gender relations, multiculturalism, and even the meaning of the Internet. A Brief History of Everything is the perfect introduction to the great Integral thinker at his wise and witty best."

Thanks to Ralf Neubauer!

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Codex Seraphinianus

by Luigi Serafini

Via Wikipedia: "Codex Seraphinianus, originally published in 1981, is an illustrated encyclopedia of an imaginary world, created by the Italian artist, architect and industrial designer Luigi Serafini during thirty months, from 1976 to 1978. The book is approximately 360 pages long (depending on edition), and written in a strange, generally unintelligible alphabet.

Originally published in Italy, the book has since been released in a number of different countries.

The word Codex in the title means book (from Latin caudex), and Seraphinianus is derived from the author's last name, Serafini. (In Italian, serafini refers to the seraphs.)"

Via John Coulthart: "As Hofstadter says, the mind is indeed staggered when considering the labour that went into the creation of this work, particularly for something that, in its willful hermeticism, subscribes to the Brian Eno recipe for originality: Do something that’s so time-consuming or difficult that no one else would ever bother. If this makes it sound like a slightly more involved equivalent of those Guinness Record-competing constructions made of toothpicks, then the comparison is unfair. The Taj Mahal in matchsticks operates on something like the chimps-with-typewriters principle: any number of people, given enough time, application and boxes of Swan Vesta could do as much. The Codex Seraphinianus is rather more special than that. It may be a folly but, like all the best follies, it achieves its own aesthetic apotheosis through accumulation of detail, sheer inventiveness and the ultimate conviction of its own worth; like all the best follies it is also unique. It might even be argued that the Codex Seraphinianus is one of the purest works of fantasy, one that affects no compromise with supporting narrative or histrionic drama but aims straight for the gold."

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