Rob Van Kranenburg on Sun, 3 Feb 2002 11:24:02 +0100 (CET)

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[Nettime-bold] New beginnings

New beginnings begin by bumping into things.

Progress has come to be defined as the ability to read data as data: the
ability to read data as data and not noise.

The ability to read data as data is what makes new beginnings. Reflect a
while on what you bumped into, run up against, hit when you did not look:

"We learn a place and how to visualise spacial relationships, as children,
on foot and with imagination. Place and the scale of place must be
measured against our bodies and their capabilities."

As I passed the sheep that clumsily - at least to my view - hurdled
together, and did held their heads quite high, I noticed the geese making
a hell of a noise. Only then did I see the fox. Crouching low, sniffing
the ground, circling in. Tail as large as body. I stood and watched, and
never moved. When I had the fox memorised as shape, I took off for my
morning run. And doubled back. Geese calling, sheep begging. I needed just
a few seconds. Always on the side of the weak. And when I stood again at
that same spot, I saw the fox moving out to an adjacent field. I moved
with him. A field, a tree, a fox and me watching. He sat there, at ease.
And I wondered, who¹s weak in his tale? Who needs to eat most? Who is
taking care of himself? I took off for my morning run. In the frozen
tracks, looking down at the slippery ground. A huge bird of prey , could
it have been a hawk? - probably an épervier, a gavilan - took off
majestically, easing itself into a nearby tree. I saw her flight. And said
out loud: "This is the place to rise". This synesthesia startled me and I
stood still for a while, thinking this over and staring at the bird. The
sentence - this linguistic medium - was in all possible interpretations
incorrect. Had I meant to say time, then this would have been untrue
as this was then this spot in which I stood staring at the bird¹ and
having risen then I would have not seen all that I had wanted to rise for
in order to see precisely that. And yet to me "This is the place to rise"
felt true to my experience. I had risen in time in order to be at the
places where I had experienced these thoughts that I now write down,
translate as meagre as it is, yes, I do apologise, into these words
through which I attempt to weave a rhythm that will convey somehow my
attempts of this morning, - this morning in the Ardennes, to memorise the
fox as shape, to exercise time as place.

New beginnings begin by ha-ha experiences.

"When the ha-ha came into being in the early decades of the eighteenth
century, the walls came down in Britain. A ditch relatively invisible from
any distance, the ha-ha - so named because strollers were said to exclaim
"Ha ha!" in surprise when they came upon it - provided an invisible
barrier that allowed the garden¹s inhabitants to gaze into the distance

The ability to read data as data is what makes new beginnings. What makes
new beginnings of experiences of walking in public places is our camera¹s
becoming smart. Face recognition software scans my features, comparing
them to pictures in a database.

Shall I exclaim "Ha ha!"?


Should I?

"To be sure, computations such as those performed by electronic devices do
not need to do their own perceiving. They produce mere combinations of
items, to which meaning is attributed from the outside. A computation
mechanism cannot tell the difference between airplane reservations, chess
games, or medical diagnosis. Thought processes worthy of the name go
beyond mere computation. Inevitably, they rely on imagery, especially on

What then if electronic devices do their own perceiving? And rely on
vision? Are they becoming thought processes worthy of the name?


Williams, Raymond, The Long Revolution, Penguin Books, 1965, p. 382

Snyder, Gary. Blue Mountains Constantly Walking, in: Solnit, Rebecca,
Wanderlust, a history of Walking. Verso, 2001, p.10

Solnit, Rebecca, Wanderlust, a history of Walking. Verso, 2001, p.88.

Arnheim, Rudolf, Thoughts on Art Education, Occasional Paper 2., The J.P.
Getty Trust, Los Angeles, 1989, p. 16.

New beginnings begin by ways of fishing.

"The songlines of Australia¹s aboriginal peoples are the most famous
examples conflating landscape and narrative. The songlines are tools of
navigation across the deep desert, while the landscape is a mnemonic
device for remembering the stories: in other words, the story is a map,
the landscape a narrative."

When Cook's Endeavour sailed into the bay that we know now as Cape Everard
on April 22 1770, touching upon Australian shore for the first time, the
British saw Aboriginals fishing in small canoes. Whereas the native
population of Tahiti had responded with loud chanting and the Maori had
thrown stones, the Aboriginals, neither afraid nor curious, simply went on
fishing (Hughes:1986).

That afternoon two heterogeneous discourses met.

Only until Cook had lowered a small boat and a small party rowed to the
shore did the Aboriginals react. A number of men rowing in a small boat
was a practice they could interpret: to them it signified a raid and they
responded accordingly. Undoubtedly the Aboriginals must have `seen'
something and even if they could not see it as a ship, they must have felt
the waves it produced in their canoes. However, as its form and height was
so alien, so contrary to anything they had ever observed or produced, they
simply chose to ignore it since they had no procedures of response for
something they could not work with..

De Certeau (1984:171) argues that it is the operation of encoding, which
is articulated on signifiers, that produces meaning. This extraordinary
story perfectly narrates the steps that are required in this operation of
encoding; what is essential in this reflexive process is a procedure of

Making sense or producing meaning always requires the possession of
procedures of translation.

New beginnings begin by ways of walking.

"And when public space disappears, so does the body, as (...) adequate for
getting around."

It was, as some Parisians later claimed, a perfect afternoon for a stroll
in the Tuileries. Finally managing to escape the oppressive indoor
drudgery to which they had been confined for so long, if not the whole of
Paris, than certainly a specific political cross-section of the Parisians,
welcomed this sunny January afternoon with a ferocity normally reserved
for their traditional afternoon apéritif. The Jardin des Tuileries had
always been, as it was to remain, a popular resort and few people could
resist the temptation to walk past the Jeu de Paume towards the Place de
la Concorde to go for a café at the Champs Elysées for although it was
sunny, it was till bitterly cold. They could still gaze upon the Tuileries
Palace, built by Catharina de Medici in the 16th century, it was not to
survive the year 1871 when it was thoroughly plundered and destroyed by
the Communards.

But now it stood firm testimony to the power of Kings and Queens over
their subjects. A monarchical power that was, in the shape of Napoleon
III, making a desperate attempt to survive by transforming an
authoritarian Empire into a liberal one, a tactical move, which, as we
know, did not succeed and led to the proclamation of the Republic on
September 4 1870.

But to the people who strolled on the Champs-Elysées that fateful January
afternoon this was still the Second Empire and they made no conscious
connection between the amazing spectacle they were about to witness and
the political earthquake that lay only a few months ahead.

A few weeks earlier, on January 10 1870, Victor Noire, a journalist from
the extreme republican newspaper La Lanterne, was killed by Pierre
Bonaparte, the Emperor's cousin. This event profoundly disturbed the
'eternal' conspirator Blanqui whose revolutionary republican activism had
earned him a wide range of dedicated followers. He suddenly realised that
he only knew his lieutenants personally, and had never actually seen the
men they commanded in his name. In effect, he did not even know their
exact number.

Desperately wanting to assess the strength of his troops personally, he
contacted his aide-de-camp.

The problem was obvious. They could not organise a parade of
revolutionaries as if it were a regular military army. The solution,
however, was equally obvious. You can hide a parade of revolutionaries in
a parade of afternoon strollers.

He said farewell to his sister, put a gun in his pocket and took up his
post on the Champs-Elysées. There the parade of the troops of which he was
the mysterious general would take place. He knew the officers, now he
would see the men they led for the first time, marching past in proud
display. Blanqui mustered his troops for inspection without anyone
suspecting anything of what was actually happening. In the crowd that
watched this curious display le vieux stood leaning against a tree
watching his friends silently approaching in columns. The promenade was
momentarily transformed into a parade ground.

In the very act of moving, walking men became marching soldiers.

Marching soldiers only had to drop out of line back into the crowd to be
transformed into walking men again and ultimately into afternoon strollers
on a sunny January afternoon. The Blanqui parade dispersed as swiftly as
it had emerged. The unsuspecting onlookers were left with their
bewilderment, in doubt as to what they had actually seen. They had
witnessed a powerful manifestation of the existence of an another
'society' that had no institutional place in the political organisation of
their time.

The covert world represented by the Blanqui parade erupted for a brief
moment in the overt world at a time and place when it was least expected.
In that brief moment, its presence deliberately unmasked, the covert
parade coexisted alongside the overt promenade, and it is hard to tell
which was the more real as the physical acts of strolling and marching
seemed to blend into an harmonious simultaneity, thus revealing the
frightening prospectthat they might be interchangeable.

In the blurring of the boundaries between marching and walking we are made
aware of how we are positioned within a field of vision and that we might
able to construct meaning through experiencing the transgression itself.
At the same time, however, experiencing the transgression strengthens our
notions of the very acts themselves, we translate the momentary - the
simultaneous blending - into our everyday notions of walking and marching.

In the very moment that we gain the opportunity to make sense, we lose the
opportunity to integrate it fully into our own ways of seeing.

To let it stand. On its own.


Solnit, Rebecca, Wanderlust, a history of Walking. Verso, 2001, p.72.

Solnit, Rebecca, Wanderlust, a history of Walking. Verso, 2001, p .11.

"Wenige Jahre nach Baudelaires Ende krsnte Blanqui seine Laufbahn als
Konspirateur durch ein denkwrdiges Meisterstck. Es war nach der
Ermordung von Victor Noir. Blanqui wollte sich einen Ýberblick ber seinen
Truppenbestand verschaffen. Von Angesicht zu Angesicht kannte er im
wesentlichen nur seine Unterfhrer. Wie weit alle in seiner Mannschaft ihn
gekannt haben, steht dahin. Er verstSndigte sich mit Granger, seinem
adjudanten, der die Anordnungen fr eine Revue der Blanquisten traf. Sie
wird bei Geffroy so beschrieben: 'Blanqui ging bewaffnet von Hause fort,
sagte seinen Schwestern Adieu und bezog seinen Posten in den
Champs-Elys?es. Dort sollte nach der Vereinbarung mit Granger das Defilee
der Truppen stattfinden, deren geheimnisvoller General Blanqui war. Er
kannte die Chefs, er sollte nun hinter ihrer jedem im Gleichschritt, in
regelmSssigen Formationen deren Leute an sich vorbeiziehen sehen. Es
geschah wie beschlossen war. Blanqui hielt seine Revue ab, ohne dass
irgendwer etwas von dem merkwrdigen Schauspiel ahnte. In der Menge und
unter den Leuten, die zuschauten wie er selber schaute, stand der Alte an
einem Baum gelehnt and sah aufmerksam in Kolonnen seine Freunde
herankommen, wie sie stumm unter einem Gemurmel sich nSherten, das durch
Zurufe immerfort unterbrochen wurde.'" Benjamin, W., Charles Baudelaire.
Ein Lyriker im Zeitalter des Hochkapitalismus in (eds) Tiedemann, R.,
SchweppenhSuser, H., Walter Benjamin, Gesammelte Schriften I -2,
Frankfurt am Main, Suhrkamp Verlag, 1974, p. 604.

The history of the komuso can be found in: Malm, William P. Japanese Music
and Musical instruments. Charles E. Tuttle Company, Rutland Vamont, Tokyo
Japan, 1959, pp.153-154.

New beginnings begin by ways of playing flute.

"Two or three hours¹ walking will carry me to as strange a country as I
expect ever to see." - Henry Thoreau.

The komuso - a wandering priest, plays a central part in the history of
Japanese Shakuhachi music. From behind their wicker visors these
basket-hatted men have "viewed the flow of Japanese life from the
seventeenth century to the present". The ranks of the komuso were filled
with ronin: masterless samurai. In Kyoto a group of komuso called
themselves the Fukeshu. The Buddhist shogun government which had smashed
all Christian inspired opposition after the battle of Shimabara was very
suspicious of any form of organization that contained these samurai whose
allegiance was doubtful.

The Masks

Mask I: inscribing yourself by appropriation.

The Fukeshu secretly purchased a building that belonged to one of the
larger Buddhist temples.

Mask II: inscribing yourself into a legitimate tradition.

By faking a number of papers claiming their historical origins as coming
from China via a priest named Chosan, the Fukeshu tried to secure their
position. They also produced a copy of a license from the first Edo
Shogun, Ieyasu, giving them the exclusive right to solicit alms by means
of shakuhachi playing. The Fukeshu asked for official recognition of their
temple. The government demanded the official document. The Fukeshu claimed
it was lost.

Mask III: inscribing yourself by incorporation.

The shogun granted their request - why further embitter already vengeful
men? - on the condition that they act as spies for the government. The
Fukeshu accepted.

Mask IV: music as a cover story

The Fukeshu played soft melodies and overheard intimate conversations.

Mask V: the flute as a cover story.

When a samurai became ronin he could no longer wear his double sword. So
these wandering priests redesigned the shakuhachi. The flute became a
formidable club as well as a musical instrument.

Mask VI: the mask.

If we read these steps backwards there always seems to be one more mask:

"eine maske mehr."

"- Wanderer, wer bist du? Ich sehe dich deines Weges gehn, ohne Hohn, ohne
Liebe, mit unerratbaren Augen; feucht und traurig wie ein Senkblei, das
üngesättigt aus jeder Tiefe ans Licht gekommen- was suchte es da unten? -
mit einer Brust, die nicht seufzt, mit einer Lippe, die ihren Ekel
verbirgt, mit einer Hand, die du noch langsam greift: wer bist du? was
tatest du? Ruhe dich hier aus: diese Stelle ist gastfreundlich für
jedermann - erhole dich! Und wer du auch sein magst: was gefällt dir
jetzt? Was dient dir zur? Nenne es nur: was ich habe, biete ich dir an! -
-Zur Erholung? Zur Erholung? O du Neugieriger, was sprichst du da! Aber
gib mir, ich bitte --- Was?Was? sprich es aus!- Eine Maske mehr! Eine
zweite Maske...

The final layer is nonexistent, the essence never material, the object
ever empty.

But in finding the story, and in telling, it we have learned.

We have learned along the way.

We learn along the way.

New beginnings begin by ways of will.

"I can see in my mind¹s eye, Captain Smith, watch in hand in the trench,
just before we went over."

"A vision of the future is one in which our everyday world of objects and
places become 'infused' and 'augmented' with information processing. In
this vision, computing, information processing, and computers disappear
into the background, and take on the role more similar to that of
electricity today - an invisible, pervasive medium distributed on or real
world. In contrast, what will appear to people are new artifacts and
augmented places that support and enhance activities in natural, simple
and intuitive ways."

Not between friend or foe an act of will has to decide. An act of will
decides who is the real and who is the absolute enemy (Carl Schmitt¹s
distinction). The absolute enemy is, according to him, Œdie eigene Frage
als Gestalt¹.

Would it be too easy? too rhetorical? too smooth to claim as a new
beginning the lived experience in which the real and absolute enemy
coincide in one and the very same citizen¹s body? Nothing heroic, no
drama, lines not of the Bard but just the baker saying - not at all
distinctively- "Goodmorning, sir."

Ah, how do I feel this to be. Once my real enemy - time - always time,
reformat her as memory. The absolute enemy - space - always space,
reformat her as scale. And now, now as in decisive or not-now, they
coincide inside this being that is me. I say Œis¹. I do not say Œbecome¹.

It is this that I believe to be the decisive new beginning of the 21st

By this I mean the exchangeability of time and space in places that are
mediated with computational processes that generate not data (linked to
other data) but information (linked to human beings). In these places
where computational processes have disappeared into the background, into
everyday objects - both the real and the subject become contested. The
environment becomes the interface.

Ha-Ha! I can hear you exclaim. That is not something new. I know that. The
real? The subject? Highly contested from day one.


That, however, does not make it more unproblematic for what we encounter
in such an environment is the problematic and futile attempts to claim any
which one - subject / time / space / place - as an undisputed starting
point for making meaning or sense, for deciding on how to act, for
recalling how previous procedures operated, for projecting a sense of self
into the future.

In a mediated environment it no longer is clear what is being mediated,
and what mediates. Such environments - your kitchen, living-room, our
shopping malls, streets of old villages, are new beginnings as they
reformulate our sense of ourselves in places in spaces in time. As new
beginnings they begin new media.


"The goal is that the world of everyday objects and places will be
augmented with information processing while at the same time exploiting
the affordances of real objects in the real world. This requires an
integrated design of real and virtual worlds and - taking the best of both
- developing hybrid worlds with matching metaphors."

The disappearing computer would, according to Dr. Norbert A. Streitz,
amount to, or rather provide, no not really provide, but could to thought
of as genius loci, - the spirit of the place.

When Cook's Endeavour sailed into the bay that we know now as Cape Everard
on 22 April 1770, touching upon Australian shore for the first time, the
British saw Aboriginals fishing in small canoes. Whereas the native
population of Tahiti had responded with loud chanting and the Maori had
thrown stones, the Aboriginals, neither afraid nor curious, simply went on
fishing (Hughes;1986).

They were in Dreamtime.

They thought Cook's boat was an island.

Were they mistaken?


Nietzsche, F., Jenseits von Gut und Bose, Was ist vornehm?, Werke in
Zwei Banden, Hanser, 1978, p. 162.

Rifleman Ed McGrath, D Coy., 13th (S) Btn., The Rifle Bridge. In Somme,
Macdonald, Lyn. Penguin. 1993, p: 122.

One of the most interesting European cutting edge I3 projects is ÔThe
Disappearing ComputerÕ,

A ditch relatively invisible from any distance, the ha-ha - so named
because strollers were said to exclaim "Ha ha!" in surprise when they came
upon it -... see footnote 3.

In Jonkoping, at i3's Annual Conference: Building Tomorrow Today. i3 -
research in intelligent information interfaces is, in the words of Dr. Dr.
Norbert A. Streitz (Ph.D. in physics, Ph.D. in psychology), spearheading
the metaphors and ways of thinking that we can focus on in laboratory
research. One of his creations is i-land: "i-LAND serves as a test bed for
exploring new ideas. The goal is that the world of everyday objects and
places will be augmented with information processing while at the same
time exploiting the affordances of real objects in the real world. This
requires an integrated design of real and virtual worlds and - taking the
best of both - developing hybrid worlds with matching metaphors."
(Sources: and

New beginnings begin new media.

In order to reflect upon what is generated by new media, and what is of
vital importance to 21st century policy and politics, it is necessary to
simplify our current practice into four major building blocks that make up
our current view of what new media constitutes: code, node, link, network.
In code we find algorithm, the grammar that we use in the translation into
data blocks which are nodes that are linked to other nodes in a network.

What we see is a massive hegemonies move - in code through WYSIWYG
editors, in node through the disappearance of the author and style, in
link through the disappearance of the image in the icon, in network
through the disappearance of cable in mobile and satellite - towards the
disappearance of the digital as tangible and visible technology, as

Is that a problem? Was not the pencil once technology - as it is still?

The problem is not the move, neither the changing ways of seeing, neither
the changing ways of use, the problem is the synchronisation on all levels
of a tendency to disappear into an on/off metaphor as electricity has.

New beginnings begin by ways of teaching.

"I can see in my mind¹s eye, Captain Smith, watch in hand in the trench,
just before we went over."

It took me five years to figure out, to grasp, - understand - let me use
the word resonate - these lines of Heraclite: and I rephrase them in my
own lines - "of all that which is dispersed haphazardly, the order is most
beautiful." In the Fragments you read that these lines are
incomprehensible as far as the Heraclite scholars are concerned. They can
not link it as a line of verse with other words in other lines in verse. I
read it and in reading I knew it to be true. Knowing that only as
experience is not very productive in a society that has no non-iconic
medium for transmitting these kinds of experiences. In order to make this
experience productive; read: make it politically viable and socially
constructive - in order to find ways of transmitting, ways of teaching
experiences like this - we textualise them. We find analogies, we read
initial lines as metaphor, as metonomy. I went for a walk one day in the
woods near F., in the Belgian Ardennes. A beautiful walk it was, steep
down, hued autumn colours, leaves fading into black. In the quiet meadow
that we passed I saw autumn leaves, small twigs, pebbles sometimes -
hurdled into the most beautiful of patterns by the strenght of water
moving. I looked hard realizing there was indeed no other way of arranging

I recognized leaves as data. I recognized data as data. And I recognized
the inability to find a way to come to terms with Heraclite¹s line without
walking, without taking a stroll in the woods and look around you, look
around you and find the strenght of streams arranging.

The ability to read data as data is what makes new beginnings. Reflect a
while on what you bumped into, run up against, hit when you did not look.

All I have to do now is the following. I can not quite put it into
adequate terms and I therefore hesitate. I do check my lines regularly for
lines that make no sense even in those regions where we need to make no
sense for a while in the registers that do make sense so. It has to do
with my ability to visualise a setting in which people resonate with media
through simulating processes. Simulating processes that are actual
processes, for in a digitised real, any process might become experiential,
might resonate.

New beginnings begin by ways of will (again).

In the philosophy of Aristoteles there were three domains of knowledge
with three corresponding states of knowing that were deigned equally
important; Theoria, Techné and Praxis. Theoria with its domain of
knowledge epistéme, was for the Greek gods, mortals could never reach this
state of knowing. But they could try to strive for it. In Theoria and
epistéme we immediately recognize our concepts of theory and epistemology.
In Techné with its domain of knowledge poèsis we can retrieve the concepts
technology and poetry. Related, for example, as follows: the poetics of
Aristotle can be seen as a catalogue of literary techniques. The original
meaning of the word 'technology' was concerned with know-how or method,
and it was only with the Great Exhibition of 1851 that the word became
overly associated with machines. It is therefore all the more interesting
that the domain of knowledge which belonged to Praxis: phronesis has
dropped out completely, not only in our language but also in our thought
and ways of thinking. Phronesis, that knowledge that any one of us uses
daily in the practice of living his everyday existence, is no longer
recognized as an important domain of knowledge with a modern linguistic

New beginnings begin new media (how).

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