Yesterday evening, thanks to Matt Ward (if we get on it's only because our names are similar), I went to my first Derrida seminar, on Derrida's response to Heidegger's analysis of death. You know, for kicks.
It was a somewhat desperate grab (desperate is a bit strong about someone who appears to enjoy perverse contradictions and lies in their own text) for something, anything objectively real, some kind of rock to hang onto.
I wasn't really there to hear about death. I was there to swim in the language. There were some beautiful turns of phrase, "inflecting the text," words setting fire to one another. I had to fall back to manifolds to get a handle on anything, this isn't my territory, but at the same time I know that misses the point: Previously I've merely discussed, using words [and n-branes of words, poetry almost, but you know what I mean]. But this text wrung meaning from the use and separation of words. Take a text, retell it and inflect it, the gap between the two is strung with taut meaning like the chewing gum from the bottom of your shoe stretched from the floor. To talk about the impossible - my death - contort language to summon up inconsistencies and impossible statements, and manipulate those, refusing analogy. While our brains have to be physically consistent, the language represented therein needn't hold together--take advantage of that. I had expected, by reputation, something like this of Derrida, but I didn't realise precisely what I'd encounter, it's a little epiphany to finally see it. It's a viscious technique, in a way, savage and disrespectful. And viscous too, swimming through language is like swimming through a machine of gears and chains.
Here's the thing. When I got home, late, I bought a deep-filled cheese pizza from Tesco, in an unconscious tribute to Sartre's omelettes, and I put it in the oven and ate it. After two hours of the impossibility of considering one's death, it seemed appropriate to take weeks off my life with a bowl of melted cheese. (Which somehow, also, makes me more authentic.)
Last night I nightmared of death and time, of trying to come to terms with the briefness of life if (but given I wasn't/won't be around in the rest of time, how can I say 'brief'), whether it matters, whether you get scared at the point of death, wondering how I can simultaneously be scared of the ultimate nature of death and of ghosts in the dark. I prefer the magic of ghosts I think, they at least hold out the promise of the escape from embodiment and hitting the singularity. In short, I got the existential heebie jeebies, which either means I think too much, or I really did have too much cheese for dinner.
On philosophy, and my future. I enjoy this stuff, but I enjoy it as purist exercise. I'm a physicist not a mathematician. And I enjoy the tools wielded by the sociologists and anthropologists, and I enjoy their arguments and discoveries, but I want to use and understand, not necessarily further. It's just quite evident that the philosophy I can wave in the air, apply, and recombine, it all comes out of other subjects: architecture, psychoanalysis, anthropology [some time ago]. I like science, and things which become [and the patterns of becomings]; I like puns and language, I can operate in design and in cybernetics [what cybernetics was, not what it is today]. I believe that the cyberneticians anticipated the present day from three decades ago, but because of social dynamics they didn't communicate their ideas and have them artistically bound. Cybernetics is our weapon against Fordism and the conduit metaphor (at least, a certain conception of cybernetics). I like practice. I like analogy, and (in whatever I end up doing) will have to mount a defense of analogy. To make one now: The way Derrida operates inside language instead of over it, I want a philosophy (or rather, a way of doing philosophy) which is of embodiment (embodiment of all kinds, including the nonhuman) instead of happening over it. Where can I find that? What can I do? Where can I start?
Stand on the shoulders of giants [via del.icio.us]. Ranked by citations; appears to merge single results into one when the same PDF is present in different locations; gets results from pay-for libraries; use the author: marker to search metadata; includes books. Incredible. It looks source-based, like news.google, and they've included the major databases in the few fields that I know enough about to check. Already great, potential: huge. Abstracts? A better citation browser? Personalised (it's be useful, I need profiles to say I'm not looking for crystal papers when I'm really looking in sociology). Research tools and persistence. Presence. Trailblazing. APIs.
Gosh. I'm not sure it'll displace Citeseer as a paper discovery tool (ooh, there's a cool graphical browser I hadn't seen before), mainly because Citeseer has more detailed information immediately available, but as a way of getting a rapid overview of an area and to perform idle, broad searches, this seems to be a great orthogonal slice through academic space.
The Prague revolution began 15 years ago today. In the course of researching Listopad, Prague 1989 [the November Events], I attempted to understand the tangled causes for the events 15 years ago, Friday 17 November 1989, that led to the fall of Communism in Czechoslovakia.
A beautiful tangle. That something so recent can be so unknown. That a volume of truth can be so known and unknown.
At the time [of my reading], May and June 2002, I archived the websites I used as sources, incase they didn't persist. I haven't checked whether they're still online, but for the anniversary I've put my mirror and timeline online: Prague 1989 source research and notes. Enjoy.
There's so much to read and talk about here: first-person narratives; clashing embedded perspectives; decade retrospectives; how it fits in the year of revolutions. Really what I love are the three Martin Smids, the conflicts between stories and conspiracies, the reconstruction of and the swimming in the past, and the nature of truth. Truth. And for now, read.
Design Engaged was fantastic. I was saying to Andrew shortly before we left, a good metric for conference success is how many of your ideas have been disrupted. I've had some strengthed or reinforced, others totally turned about, and some new ones. A good feeling.
Like our algorithmic walk [and my train journey earlier this year] the journey was the destination; the experience was to be swum in. Correspondingly my notes are scrappier than usual, listing keywords to provoke thoughts in myself rather than capturing anything. My presentation was scrappier still, a cut-up work in progress attempting to express my understanding of the brain-as-thing-which-can-be-compared after a summer of writing (and actually never approaching that high-level description directly). I opened my presentation describing a game I play, naming as many kinds of animals as possible in a minute, and watching the paths that are made by my mind. The talk itself followed the same pattern: I was unable to read my notes and talked from memory, inspired by each slide to attempt to reconstruct my reasoning for choosing it. I end with jetstreams.
At the end of the weekend we each recommended 3 books. They aren't favourite books, necessarily, or most influential, just recommended ones as if in conversation with people there.
My Design Engaged 2004 notes. Thanks, Andrew, for putting this on, and thanks too to my fellow attendees who made this an uncus three days. I hope I will be able to count many as new friends.
My Nokia 8310 has packed up--it won't even switch on (and nothing comes on the screen when I plug in to charge it). All my favourite text messages are in a folder on the phone memory. Is there anything I can rip out of it to get the messages off? (A new 3220 is arriving tomorrow, but I'm rather upset about the texts. I thought they were on the SIM.)