Memetic Turn

[Original German Blog Post]

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“The Hanged” from the Tarot Deck of Charles VI., Paris, early 15th century.

The symbolism of Tarot – similar to that of alchemy – forms a pre-modern memetic system. Tightly knit into other more or less esoteric programs of meaning, like Qabbalah or astrology, its images are at first illustrative – they picture very well, what can be seen on it, at second they bear an arbitrarily assigned symbolic value. The particular with memes as well as with metaphors is there creating a common space of meaning between several human beings, by which these different beings identify with.

“Literacy, the visual technology, dissolved the tribal magic by means of its stress on fragmentation and specialisation and created the individual.”

“The tribalizing power of the new electronic media, the way in which the return us the the unified fields of the old oral cultures, to tribal cohesion and pre-individualist patterns of thought, is little understood. Tribalism is the sense of the deep bind of family, the closed society as the norm of community.”
Herbert Marshall McLuhan

“Everything is divisible, thus there cannot be an individual.”

“The meaning of such symbols [of letters] is largely independent from colour: a red or a black “A” mean the same sound. […] Thus the current explosion of colours points to the tending to loose importance of unidimensional codes like the Alphabet.”

“History begins with the invention of writing, not because text keeps the processes, but because it transforms scenes into processes: it creates the historic consciousness.”
Vilém Flusser

ממטית המהפך

Writing and Society are tied together in an immediate way. With text, particularly the newspaper which shall become the first real mass media in the 19th century, people are able to get informed homogeneously over large distances. However, it was of course not before the advent of the railroad and telegraph that this would have been of any importance. These are the fundamentals on which for the first time a truly supra regional economy – the national economy could develop. The local community, the village, at the same time decreases in its aspect of being the common destiny, like already been declared by Tönnies.

“Newspaper is the glue of society”, as exclaimed recently by Helmut Heinen, president of Germany’s Newspaper Publishers’ Association.

But some aspects seam to resonate no longer with this proposition, like Daniel Schulz had also replied to in Der Standard by responding to the newspaper man: “Not the paper, but the images of cats are the glue of society!”

Daniel was not correct, although – I am convinced about that – did mean the right thing. Images of cats are not the glue of society but of communities! Thus they are not only to the least extent the glue of society but even more, what I will explicate in the following, they will even corrode society.

These images of cats – in my own community’s case it is more images of fowl, especially of runner ducks – are very special signs, closely related to metaphors, allegories or emblems. Although not fully in the mind of its inventor, it is now common to call this kind of image-signs memes. The meaning of memes is often hermetic, not to be understood outside the community in which they are shared.

Within memes – which are usually hardly iconic but rarely abstract signs – is often concentrated a complete universe of meaning and relationships, by which the members of a community are connected to it. Memes are common spaces of projection of our unconsciousness: “In the darkness of an exteriority I may find, without recognising it as such, my own interiority or the mental.” (C.G. Jung on the allegories in Alchemy).

Memes thereby take the function that in the pre-modernism the metaphor and especially the allegory would have held:

With metaphors things can be made visible, that could not be told explicitly. “Metaphoric imagery broadens the horizon of the thinkable by shattering the boundaries of mental rationality and thus opens essential spaces of possible articulation for speculative thoughts.” writes Jörg Zimmer. By equalising non-identical terms, it makes manifest the connective attributes; metaphors generate identity between the otherwise differentiated. Metaphors, though, express at first those images in the mind of the speaker (“sender”); the receiver of the metaphor will initially not hold the identical image in his mind, but populate the metaphor with his own associations. In the same way, in which the meaning attributed to the metaphor by its sender becomes similar to the meaning, the receiver puts into it, the metaphor generates identity between different persons; metaphors generate communality.

Memes act contagious. You are infected, if you have once identified yourself with.
***

History of Turns

The Linguistic Turn, like described above, was the consequence of a population growing together and becoming increasingly well educated with high literacy and the technological infrastructure of mass transport and mass communication over large distances. With the Linguistic Turn of modernism the ancient communities get dissolved, societies – nations and states form and newspapers, resp. mass media are the glue of these societies. The metonymy removes the metaphor as leading trope in rhetoric: “Berlin declares war to Paris”.

With the illustrated magazine and in particular with television, the 20th century brings the Iconic Turn – images transmitted by mass media. Going with the merging of the once competing national societies to supranational blocks of NATO, Warsaw Pact or European Community, the visually powerful media deliver an internationally valid repository of images. These technologically mass distributed images are mostly non-metaphoric; they show mainly, what can be seen on it.

The News-at-Six become the nation’s camp fire and the utopia of solidarity between people far above the narrow space of a community seams to become reality.
For the coarse grid of the political and economical contexts of the second half of the 20th century, these mass media are able to supply an audience of millions daily with the little relevant intelligence, necessary for national cohabition: the wood-cut party policy in the parliaments, the interplay of ones owns nation with other states, the crude news of a constantly growing economy, always held in plain language, comprehensible also for “people with moderate education”. Irony is the figure of the Iconic Turn – often however in form of cynicism.
***

Since the 1980s there are visible signs of corruption on mass media, although at first concealed by the enormous success of private television resp. after the fall of the iron wall by the backlog demand of former Soviet sphere of influence.

At once it was no longer so important to read what would have happened on the international theatre on the previous day. The glue of society began to become brittle. And the Web just came handy for this development. No longer getting informed – but arranging yourself the things you take as necessary. Like the famous German social researcher Renate Köcher had realised in horror from the longitudinal surveys of her Institute for Demoscopy at Allensbach: people do not get informed differently now – strictly speaking they would not let themselves get informed at all! Mass media do not get substituted in their function, it is more that they vanish away. And not physically – people still watch television – but in their effect.

Our social graph, the network of our communal relationships supplies us with the things that we would want to know about. This is the filter that before was formed by the editorial teams of the media. We organise our relationships by the Net, like in former times we as the citizen of the state would get oriented by mass media. “The end of the Grand Narrative” by which post-modernism is often described, means history becoming a collection little stories. This is “Atemporality“, where “literature collapses before our eyes“. Mass media’s standard language gives way to the vernacular dialects of Net culture. “New media are new archetypes, at first disguised as degradations of older media.” (McLuhan)

The membership in these new memetic community is not to be compared with the “being born into a community” of pre-modernism. Those are relatively loose structures, partly only temporarily stable and we are rarely exclusively at home in just one of them. These communities are kept together symbolically by Memes.

This Memetic Turn marks the transition into the post-modern age. The dwindling influence of the national structures with at the same time dissolving international political structures leads to also to their medial tools becoming dull.

Thus it becomes clear how the revolutionary movement in Spain is related to the overthrow in Tunisia and Egypt. It is fascinating to see how the seemingly lacking of formulated common goals and any form of constituted organisation swamps the old media, still thinking in terms of society. It is the Hash-Tag that brings people together, the #spanishrevolution-meme as projective space, above which people synchronise on their longing for a different form of living together in a post-social communality, no longer controlled by ineffective party policy.

Further reading:

Modernism is our classical antiquity

“So literature collapses before our eyes” –
Non-Commodity Production

Enhances
private authorship, the competitive goal-oriented individual
Retrieves
tribal elitism, charmed circle, cf. the “neck verse”

Medium:
Print

Reverses
With flip from manuscript into mass production via print comes the corporate reading public and the historical sense
Obsolesces
slang, dialects and group identity, separates composition and performance, divorces eye and ear

McLuhan’s tetrad-model: four aspects of the effect of media on culture and society. This example Print and the second one Xerox are quoted from “The Global Village” by McLuhan and Powers, Oxford University Press 1989.

The idea of copyright – the right to retain publication of one’s own words – is much younger than other forms of intellectual property laws. Patents to protect the economic exploitation of technological invention, for example, have been granted by the city’s sovereign since the times of ancient Greece. But not sooner than in the 18th century the perceived value added to a society and its economy by the written word would justify a legal concept to aliment writers. The first copyright law clearly formulates this goal in its title: “An Act for the Encouragement of Learning, by vesting the Copies of Printed Books in the Authors or purchasers of such Copies, during the Times therein mentioned“, also called the Statue of Anne.

Yesterday, Bruce Sterling cried out his concern about the future of literature in three Tweets:

“*Economic calamity that hammered music hits literature. The “solution” for writers? There isn’t one.
So literature collapses before our eyes, while the same fate awaits politics, law, medicine, manufacturing… finance and real estate…
Diplomacy, the military… we’re not gonna die of this, but man, the deeper 21st century looks like nothing anyone ever imagined.” (1,2,3)

The catch-all political party, trade unions, music industry, newspapers, advertising and even the production of art and literature – all are effected by this changing culture to the core. I think we can identify two main drivers for this change if we consider what the function of these mass-cultural phenomena had been in the past.

Enhances
speed of printing process
Retrieves
oral tradition, the committee

Medium:
Xerox
(could be “digital print as well”)
Reverses
everybody a publisher
Obsolesces
assemly-line book

The first I would call retribalisation (following the term used by McLuhan).
The concept of society was defined in opposite to community by Hermann Thönnies in his famous foundation of sociology “Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft” in 1887. A community is tied together by something held in common – normally the fate shared by living in the same village. People living in a community know each other in person and information is distributed mostly by word of mouth. Thus oral culture and a common set of allegories give the ground for communication. The mass-alphabetisation brought the mass-society. The man of the crowd was coined by Edgar Allen Poe in his famous short story of this title in 1840. The actor of this modern, industrialised society is no longer a person, it is the individual. The characteristics of an individual can thus be derived from objectives that can be observed from outside. In the modern society of the industrial age, nearly everything you had to know to measure someone would have been their job. The goods that people would exchange became commodities. Mass media – which I shall use as an umbrella for all these topics lined up above – homogenise a society by reaching out to everyone simultaneously. Since the 1950, this has changed dramatically. Social strata or milieu would no longer account for consumption habits. Two individuals of the same socio-demographic profile might have completely different styles of living, preferences in music or consumer brands. What brings people together is no longer social position but to have something in common – the return of the community, but no longer defined by common destiny but much weaker, by some common interest that is highly dependent to the momentary mood and situation in which people find themselves. The Web is the perfect means to organise, inform and entertain such loosely knit communities globally.

The second was sketched by Bruce Sterling earlier: atemporality as he calls it; the end of the great narrative, end of progress, or even end of history. The consequences for creative artists that he sees are dire: the choice of re-arranging findings from the past, eclecticism or “the Gothic castle” as he calls this artistic approach, Punk, the bricolage. Or alternatively generative creation, aggregating small contributions of a large group of people; favela chic in Sterling’s words.

Both developments had been foresighted by some thinkers right after WWII. Most prominent are Herbert Marshall McLuhan and independently from him Vilém Flusser. Both see the decline of written word in favour of the rise of a new oral culture, globally organised in tribe-like structures, tied together by a common set of allegories. The breakup of copyright is the direct consequence to this.

The “solution” for writers? There isn’t one.‘ If we use the tetradic set of questions, shown above, on copyright we could get a glimpse on how copyright (and its projected fading away) may affect the publication process:

1. What does the medium enhance?
2. What does the medium make obsolete?
3. What does the medium retrieve that had been obsolesced earlier?
4. What does the medium flip into when pushed to extremes?

Copyright enhances private authorship and leads to a ‘bourgeois’ creative who is paid for his word. The dilettante, the aristocratic amateur enthusiast are rendered obsolete. The professional writer however shares some aspects with the scriptor, the cleric scholar who was funded by the monastery to perform his art. Regarding the forth tetradic questions: by the ecstasies of claiming ownership on intellectual property as seen in the plethora of cease-and-desists fired into the crowed by some corporations to claim their intellectual property rights against bloggers, or the “three-strikes-out”-initiative into which the European Commission was driven by the publishing industry’s lobbyists, the copyright, originally made to foster broad accessibility of knowledge, makes this knowledge less accessible again and creates elites, that still want (or are able) to afford to buy the publications. – Just to make it clear: I personally am opposed against the notion of regarding everything in the Net for free; but to see the consequences of this cultural development, we have to take a neutral angle. – I am convinced that the decay of the royalty-system for authors based on copyright is even accelerated by this effort to defend it.

Some hope might be found in long-tail distribution-systems like iTunes or Amazon which cut out the publisher and in theory directly connect the producers with their clients. But I think, that we already see the margin left for authors as well as the number of possible sales are to be expected to stay rather small. And at the same time, there is so much that can be obtained completely for free in the Internet, that to buy something becomes even less attractive. “The dark side of the free and open” is the decline of the classic publication economy, as Geert Lovink remarks. This leads to the end of handling publications as a commodity. How to make a living from non-commodity-production, from giving your work away for free? On the other hand: how many authors, musicians, composers etc. have been able to make their living by their arts in the past!

Nevertheless: walking down McLuhan’s tetrad, we can expect to get back into a culture of more or less sophisticated dilettantism as seen in most parts of the blogosphere. Small contributions, often highly specialised, often collaged and Punk-style, like Bruce Sterling describes in his post. But on the other hand, we see the return of the scriptorium. Corporate publishing, PR, corporate or brand storytelling; authors, writing to support their consultancy-work and other freelance businesses I would also take into this category. Both live-forms of the future-author, the dilettante and the scribe do no longer support the individual “artist-creator” who can be attributed as the sole author of his work and thus gets paid by royalties.

We will see publications and creations of art, perfectly adopted to the preferences and needs of very small communities; new publications emerging fast, drawn to existence by monitoring, google alerts and inspiration to write something through tweets, just noted by chance.

A possible form of organising these micro-publications is a content network, doing for content, what an ad network does for ads. Bringing all together, corporate publishing, advertising and the user’s still existing desire to get entertained and inspired, might even lead to some monetary compensation for the participating authors.

A second path could lead into creating a new area of public space in the Internet, funded by tax-like fees as to be seen in Europe’s public broadcasting landscape. This public space should be curated in a way, ensuring to maintain cultural productions of high class.

All told, I truly acclaim to Bruce Sterlings speculation: “we’re not gonna die of this, but man, the deeper 21st century looks like nothing anyone ever imagined.”

Further reading:
Memetic Turn
Modernism is our Classical Antiquity
The End of History – for Creative Professionals
Virtual Broadcasting

Ovid: Metamorphoses

[Original German Blog Post]

Some text are said to have influenced a whole generation; some are even called centennial. But the content of two books have been infusing our so called occidental couture and particularly art and literature over the span of the last two thousand years: this is the bible and Ovid’s Metamorphoses

Claude Lorrain: “Ariadne auf Naxos”.
 
„A new god comes along – and silently we are devoted!” mocks Zerbinetta in Hugo von Hofmannsthal’s libretto to Richard Strauss’ Opera, when Ariadne lets herself get comforted by Bacchus – and obviously has already forgotten Theseus. And Bacchus puts Ariadne’s crown as constellation into the sky and thus sets the faithful spinner an everlasting memorial:
desertae et multa querenti
amplexus et opem Liber tulit, utque perenni
sidere clara foret, sumptam de fronte coronam
inmisit caelo: tenues volat illa per auras
dumque volat, gemmae nitidos vertuntur in ignes
In 1606 Adam Elsheimer painted this illustration to “Acis and Galatea”. Elsheimer adopts the great perspective of Ovid’s landscape portrayals and completely abandons to show any persons.
 
The painting, which is also titled “Aurora”, is regarded as the first pure landscape painting – so modern that later coevals still put figures to the left side.
The alchemical luxury manuscript Splendor Solis from the 16th century – shown is the copy of Berliner Kupferstichkabinett – takes a path to the Philosopher’s Stone along twenty two miniatures, like gates, framed by stonework, giving in each case a view into the next room of chymical enlightenment. Also the miniature to the 11th gate, Purification in the tub of renascence, points directly to Ovid: the relief in the base of the column on the right shows Pygmalion, creating the woman of his dreams.
 
The alchemical text to this plate gives a paraphrase of ‘Medea and Pelias’:
 
The seventh parable: OVID the old Roman, wrote to the same end, when he mentioned an ancient Sage who desired to rejuvenate himself was told: he should allow himself to be cut to pieces and decoct to a perfect decoction, and then …” Admittedly Pelias did not fare well with that: barbarous Medea instead of her potion had put only noneffective herbs into the kettle!
Nicolas Poussins “Midas and Bacchus” from the Munich Pinakothek can be seen in Reiner-Werner Fassbinder’s drama “The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant” declining to a picture wallpaper in the protagonist’s bedroom. The rich fashion designer Petra von Kant can thus easily be seen as modern variety of the king who would let everything he touched turn into gold, but at the same time almost died of thirst and hunger.
Polyphem / Triumph of Galatea by Raffael and students.
 
Agostino Chigi, the richest man of the 16th century erected his residence in rome on the left bank of the Tiber River, which is today called after its later owner “Villa Farnesina”. Chigi had built the palace for himself and his concubine , the Venetian Francesca Ordeaschi. The remarkable with this liaison is, that it is supposed to be a real love attachment – hardly befitting his rank at all: the bride, a notorious courtesan – this love was finally legitimated to matrimony by pope Leo X.
 
Chigi let his Villa stock by Raffael an his school with frescos to Ovid’s Metamorphoses. The continuous motive: love. About the most famous is Raffael’s “Triumph der Galatea”.
 
Ovid’s Episode is on the one side full of aerial beauty – realized very well in Elsheimer’s painting, on the other side we find also moments of even humorist punch line:
 
When the hulking cyclops Polyphem tries to get his adored Galatea – the ‘milky white’ how the name in deed reads verbatim – on his side with sweet words:
“More white then the leaf of snow white privet, Galatea, more blooming then the meadows, more slender then the alder, … , more wanton then the tender kid (well, this means not child but goatling; jb), more smooth then shells, continuously rubbed by the see, … , more clear then ice, more sweet then grape through ripe, more soft then down of cygnet and more white then cheese …”
 
“Candidior folio nivei Galatea ligustri,
floridior pratis, longa procerior alno,
…, tenero lascivior haedo,
levior adsiduo detritis aequore conchis,

lucidior glacie, matura dulcior uva,
mollior et cycni plumis et lacta coacto; …”
“Metamorphose in der Not” (Metamorphosis in an Emergency) that was drawn by Paul Klee 1939 shortly before his dead, pictures the hope for liberation from the incurable body, for a transformation into another beeing – by the mercy of the gods, like in Ovid. Klee died 1940 after a long suffering from a cureless illness.

Written early in our calender era, Ovid’s “Fifteen books of transformation” stayed more or less permanently to the 19th century the raw material for literature, theatre, sculpture and particularly painting. Geoffrey Chaucer, William Shakespeare to Ted Hughes and the Simpsons, Adam Elsheimer, Claude Lorrain, Peter Paul Rubens to Ian Hamilton Finley; thousands works of art.

Being translated into many medieval local languages as early as the 13th century, it is in fact mostly tales from the Metamorphoses, which are commonly taken for the “Greco-Roman Mythology”.

No wonder, that painting in particular was influenced to such an extend by Ovid. The stories are so immensely pictorial, even iconic, when they tell us of more then two hundred fifty characters changing their Form (or being changed into a new form) – a man, faun or nymph becoming rivers, mountains, all kinds of animals. But the quality of Ovid’s storytelling and poetry is not limited to catchy narration of famous or remote myths.

Typically the single episode of a metamorphosis begins in a great long shot, in which our view floats high above the landscape that fades away in the distant haze. The location of the story forms randomly at the edge of this picture, the heroes appear and we come closer and closer until we get totally involved with the thought and feelings of the actors. And these feelings motivate the whole behaviour of the persons, who in this very moment strive towards the turning point of their life. In almost all tales the main driver of the actions is love. Unmet love, jealousy of the happily loving, or the love of a mother- or father; the end is in most cases tragic and full of cruelty – but not rarely the unfortunate heroes get saved from their distress by a forbearing godhood.
***

On top of this first narrative level with the three perspectives of the story – psychological inner life of the heroes, the plot, and the description of the location and the landscape – there lies a second, metaphoric layer. We catch through the psyche of the acting persons the generally human: desire, joy, pain, grief and solace. Good and bad are not frequently clear, mostly we can rather feel with both sides, for Ovid portrays his staff in such an empathetic way and even invokes for compassion directly within the text.

A third level can be read allegorically. To conceive our environment we use pictures because the noumena are not comprehensible for us directly. Nietzsche speaks of a “Metamorphosis of the world into men”. Almost all of Ovid’s stories of transformation explain pictorially geographical, biological or physical phenomena and make abstract ideas and philosophic terms visible.

Transformation as the principle of creation became finally the framework of alchemy in the middle ages and the early modern times. Ovid’s Metamorphoses were read by the adepts of the chimical arts as the transmutation of matter from one state into the next. Allegorical schemes by which we can cognize the world are offered by the fifteen books of transformation even today. For example our idea of “Chaos” as abstract concept is directly deviated from the impressive beginning of the first book:

Ante mare et terras et quod tegit omnia caelum /
unus erat toto naturae vultus in orbe, /
quem dixere Chaos: rudis indigestaque moles, /
nec quicquam nisi pondus iners congestaque eodem /
non bene iunctarum discordia semina rerum.

Before there was the land and the sky that covers all /
nature had only one face all over the world /
this was called Chaos: a rude, unordered mass /
nothing but inert weight and on a heap /
the not well assembled, seeds of things being at strife.
***

The numerous literary translations of the Metamorphoses are often far more stuck into their time than the original. Of course for example the adaption by Arthur Golding has been highly influential for the English literature but even for the English language which tends to be similarly brief compared to Latin, words and insertions are needed to fill the metre. Much feels unfresh today, a bit dusty. Isn’t it remarkable how the centuries since Ovid’s time became outdated and sagged into history!

Modern translation that keep to the text are better suited, alone for the possibility to point out poetic specialities that always are left out by literary adoptions.

Ovid’s own words are beautiful and touching even after two thousand years.

The Army of Technological Slaves

[Original German Blog Post]

“καρπὸν δ᾽ ἔφερε ζείδωρος ἄρουρα
αὐτομάτη πολλόν τε καὶ ἄφθονον”
Hesiod, Έργα και ημέραι

“Machines exist to serve us. There is something to learn from culture of the Hacker formedia makers: not to submit to the machines, neither reject, but to take advantage of the machines, to even downright exploit them! Benedikt Köhler

“For that being who by nature is nothing of himself, but totally another’s, and is a man, is a slave.”

For if every instrument, at command, or from a preconception of its master’s will, could accomplish its work (what the poet tells us of the tripods of Vulcan, “that they moved of their own accord into the assembly of the gods “), the shuttle would then weave, and the lyre play of itself; nor would the architect want servants, or the master slaves.”

Aristotle, Politics

Why don’t the Gods keep slaves? Because they let, by virtue of their power, their work be done of its own volation, automatically. From these thoughts Aristotle in his Politics derives a dialectic path which the history of humanity moves along – from beast to god in three steps; in our time of automatisation, this seams fantastically up to date: first man learns to walk upright and thus to use his hands, to speak, to think. He is freed from the elementary necessities. Second, man discovers that the most powerful tool is man himself – or better, fellow men, that can be made use of: “A man provided with paper, pencil and rubber, and subject to strict discipline, is in effect a universal machine.” (Alan Turing). This is the beginning of slavery.

Yet even Aristotle sees the chance, that mankind can liberate itself again, to resort to ever keeping some proportion of men in the indignity of being mere means: to someday approach the gods by better and better tools, by Automatoi, technological slaves,

Technological slaves.
“Brain of Steel- no overexertion, no errors!”

In Modernism, the term Technological Slave’ was introduced by the discoverer of the macro molecules and later Nobel price laureate Hermann Staudinger. Already in 1915, Staudinger warned in an expertise for the German Reich’s war ministery, that the outnumbering of technological slaves on the side of the Allies would be superior to the Central Powers’ greater number of human soldiers. Unfortunately, the government did not buy into that; neither ten years later, when Staudinger used this simple argument to belie the Stab-in-the-back legend.

For the last time, Herman Staudinger spoke up in this case in 1946 with a visionary forsight on the consequences of nuclear power and his warning of a “Rise of the Technological Slaves”, so that satisfying the hunger for energy of these slaves would finally lead to total dependance of mankind.

Although we are still far off to have all our labour and work taken away by the automats, the Aristotelian idea of technological Slaves gives a good picture of the role, machines should play in our lives.

“Experience has also show you the difference of the results between mechanism which is neat, clean, well arranged, and always in a high state of repair; and that which is allowed to be dirty, in disorder, and without the means of preventing unnecessary friction, and which therefore becomes, and works, much out of repair. […] If, then, due care as to the state of your inanimate machines can produce such beneficial results, what may not expected if you devote equal attention to your vital machines, which are far more wonderfully constructed?” (Robert Owen, A New View of Society)

In contrast to Utopian-socialist Robert Owen’s advocating to give human workers the care that would likewise be given to machines to prevent them from premature abrasion, the social ethics of the 20th century turned this and made man the end and not the means for the existence of machines:

“At the same time, however, there is a growing awareness of the exalted dignity proper to the human person, since he stands above all things, and his rights and duties are universal and inviolable.” (Gaudium et Spes)

Prometheus was nailed to the Caucasus for bringing man the ability to rise above nature – and in return the Olympian gods gave us the present of Pandora’s Box – that we would have our own Automatoi. Machines are our technological slaves. They have to serve us. Where they would still oppose, we have to learn to subject them in a cunning way.

That is Benedikt’s call, cited above: take advantage of the machines, they are made for this! And that means: also creative professionals, mind workers, editors, journalists, should think like hackers. Hacker for me is a neutral to positive term. Hacker make use of technology as completely as possible. Like the famous investigative journalists, they don’t let themselves hold up by arbitrary rules which are supposed to tell us, how we should use information.

In Google’s algorithms, in the depths of Wikipedia and in the flow of letters on Twitter, there is much more to find, as the approved way of using these tools would show. The response of the publicists and journalists on news aggregators like Google News should sound: Hurray! Finally we are liberated from rewriting boring agency reports; finally a machine takes from us, what in fact has never been valuable work. Instead of sabotaging the Looms like the weavers, we should see to get the most out of the new technology – to make technology our slave, for Pandora’s Box is opened and the Automatoi that escaped from it cannot be captured again.


Technological Slaves and Pandora’s Box.

Fostering Slowness

The real innovation blogging brought to our media landscape has never been real-time. No, the most important difference between “regular” websites or portals and blogs is their archive and the beautiful possibilities for fostering slowness (philosopher Odo Marquard coined the phrase “Langsamkeitspflege” for a very similar concept).

When German blogger and journalist Don Dahlmann wrote three years ago, “one really should create an overview of the German blog scene because very much will be lost very fast”, I started the Blog History Project. This project aims at preserving the early history of blogging in Germany.

The projects extends from the first beginnings of blogging 14 years ago – among the pioneers were Robert Braun, Cybertagebuch and Moving Target – through the first Wave of Blogging in 2001 that even got noticed in some newspapers, up to the great blogging euphoria in the mid-2000s. Now, it already has been three years since I started the project, but the most exciting observation is: almost all blogs and their archives are still available. So, maybe we do not lose as much as we may have thought.

Everytime I ventured into the field of oral history, I learned, that key elements of urban infrastructure such as post offices, where almost every citizen went many times a year, month or week to withdraw money, send letters or look up phone numbers, are kept in collective memory for about 10 years after they had been torn down.

Sometimes there is not even a single photograph showing the buildings – in spite of (or maybe: because of) their banality. Paradoxically some of them are documented only on Twitter, a medium very frequently criticized for its banality and fleetingness. I suppose there are more pictures of the beautiful 1950s Aschaffenburg station on Twitter than in the building authority’s archives.

We will probably stilll read our blogs in 20 years and browse their huge historical archives, while political real-time characters such as Ursula von der Leyen (called “Zensursula” by her web-savvy opponents) and former president Horst Köhler slumber in dusty, cobwebby corners of the Wikipedia. And that’s certainly not the worst development.

I can only recommend the highly informative book by Florian Aicher and Uwe Drepper about architect Robert Vorhoelzer, the most important figure of the Bavarian postal architectural office in the 1920s, who planned many of the postal buildings pictured in this article.

What remains of printing

[see german post]

Yesterday the printing house in our neigboroughood was getting rid of unuseful things. Lots of printing and typesetting tools, drawers and letter cases were on the street: bulky waste waiting for the garbagemen. Yesterday I already took a big “O” and three small letter cases with me to give them a new home. Today I came by the same place. The garbage pressing machine already hat eaten up and digested the bigger parts of the typesetting leftovers. The smaller ones which still lied on the sideway had been carefully picked up and swept away. Yet I found in the corners of the stone paving some minuscule leftovers – very tiny letters that had passed the brushes of the diligent garbagemen.

And looking at the tiny “ö” and the graceful “c” with the microscopic cedilla it touches me to think: How incredibly laborious it was to set types and to print. How incredible hard work it was to set all those so tiny little letters in their right place, to form words, sentences, whole books. And now I click on “publish” and everything is done.