Brian Holmes on Fri, 22 Nov 2002 14:47:02 +0100 (CET)

[Date Prev] [Date Next] [Thread Prev] [Thread Next] [Date Index] [Thread Index]

[Nettime-bold] Re: <nettime> software as brainboxing

Wade Tillet writes, about the next great Microsoft invention:

>IF one were to link all of these individual life databases together, 
>via some sort of metanarrative based on position and time, there is 
>the possibility of creating a sort of ultra-rational 4D historical 
>representation... Based on a sort of reality consensus, off the mark 
>data would have to be discarded during processing.

Once again, it's a matter of "simulacral surveillance," where 
monitoring creates the real. Life inside a Cyclopian eye. It's less 
Orwellian than Borgesian. It's linked to a rationalizing compulsion 
to represent - plus a refusal of sexuality and difference - that 
Borges explored better than anyone else.

Consider the archetypyal Borgesian conceit: "Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius."

The story begins with a mirror and an encyclopedia. The late-night 
discovery that mirrors "have something monstrous about them" prompts 
a reference by one of the characters to an article in the forty-sixth 
volume of the Anglo-American Cyclopedia (a pirate copy of the 
Encylopedia Britannica) where a heresiarch from the ancient land of 
Uqbar is said to have claimed that "mirrors and copulation are 
abominable, because they increase the number of men."  The 
authenticity of the article is doubtful, but it's all the more 
intriguing for the characters. What gradually unfolds is that the 
land of Uqbar is the imaginary creation of a seventeenth-century 
secret society (among whose early members was the solipsistic 
philosopher Berkeley). Spurred on in the mid-nineteenth century by a 
nihilistic American millionaire, later generations of this same 
society wrote an entire encyclopedia to describe the civilization of 
Tlon on the planet Orbis Tertius. The article on Uqbar in the 
Anglo-American Cyclopedia was only a foretaste of this forty-volume 
work, the most complex and inventive of all human undertakings, 
completed in 1914 and first discovered by the public at large in a 
library in Nashville, Tennessee, in 1944. The fictitious past of 
Tlon, Borges tells us, rapidly caught the world's imagination, and 
interest in its interpretation soon outstripped, indeed replaced, 
that of traditional history. A fantasy world, a simulacrum, became 
the shared reference of humanity at large. Borges hints at the 
political significance of his allegory in the postscript written in 

"Manuals, anthologies, summaries, literal versions, authorized 
re-editions and pirated editions of the Greatest Work of Man flooded 
and still flood the earth. Almost immediately, reality yielded on 
more than one account. The truth is that it longed to yield. Ten 
years ago any symmetry with a semblance of order - dialectical 
materialism, anti-Semitism, Nazism - was sufficient to entrance the 
minds of men. How could one do other than submit to Tlon, to the 
minute and vast evidence of an orderly planet?"

To locate the discovery of Tlon in Nashville, the kitsch recording 
capital of the world, is obviously no accident. It's an incredible 
reading of American submission to the totally mediated society, which 
arises as a sublation of both Nazism and Stalinism. It all depends on 
an abstractive psychology that banishes the conflict of opposing 
wills, of difference, the things that make up both human sexuality 
and politics. "It is no exaggeration," Borges writes, "to state that 
the classic culture of Tlon comprises only one discipline: 
psychology." Drawing on Hume and Berkeley, he develops the 
description of a "congenitally idealist" civilization that eschews 
any criterion of reality. Its literature "abounds in ideal objects, 
which are convoked and dissolved in a moment, according to poetic 
needs." The culture of Tlon is a disaggregative series of autonomous 
verbal formulations, something like modernist poetry. Yet its process 
of absolute invention supposes that humanity is universally the same. 
One of the great heresies of Tlon is that "equality is one thing, and 
identity another"; the refutation of this heresy concludes "that 
there is only one subject, that this indivisible subject is every 
being in the universe and that these beings are the organs and masks 
of the divinity." Or, in another variant of the orthodoxy: "All men, 
in the vertiginous moment of coitus, are the same man. All men who 
repeat a line from Shakespeare are William Shakespeare." The act of 
reading fashions the reader in the image of a pre-existent text, the 
act of seeing makes us into a recordable image, just as the sexual 
act, for Tlonic or American science, returns the individual to his 
species identity as a mere vehicle for genetic replication. In other 
words, equality is the same as identity. The dream of no conflict in 
a perfect world. And so this reflection allows a correction of the 
"heresy" mentioned at the outset of the story: neither copulation nor 
the literary mirror are abominable, for they do not really increase 
the number of men.

It's the ontology of zero population growth, pure sterility, the 
predictable future, life insurance for the dead.

Gates is a nihilistic American millionaire (or trillionaire), the 
mask of the contemporary divinity. Today's Tlon lies undiscovered on 
100 uplinkable DVDs in a file room in Redmond, Washington. Bill 
Gates: Borges as a drag.

Nettime-bold mailing list