“Modernism is our Classical Antiquity”

[Original German Blog Post]

(1) “A Vernacular is like a crumbled street version of a classic language. Like Italian is a vernacular language and Latin is a classic language. What does actual vernacular online video sound like, that’s native to the Internet and speaks vernacular Internet ease? I’ll just read you the categories of an unnamed [Online Video Network] here: ‘LOL, OMG, WTF, Cute, Games, Geeky and Trashy’. Those are actual terms, coined on the Internet. Now, you could think, to be classy, you would like to expunge that vernacular, and instead of them saying ‘LOL’ they should say something like ‘commedy’, instead of ‘OMG’ something like ‘experimental’. – Allright. That’s not how it works. It is a little hard to understand this, but the actual path to classiness is to upgrade the vernacular. You have to get through LOL, OMG, WTF, Cute, Games, Geeky and Trashy and somehow come out the other side. You have to make network culture classy on its own terms. You have to ennoble the vernacular – not by teaching people Latin, but by writing Dante’s Inferno!”
Bruce Sterling, Closing Keynote: Vernacular Video from Vimeo Festival. (My transcript)

(2) classic 1610s, from Fr. classique (17c.), from L. classicus “relating to the (highest) classes of the Roman people,” hence, “superior,” from classis (see class). Originally in English “of the first class;” meaning “belonging to standard authors of Greek and Roman antiquity” is attested from 1620s. Classics is 1711, and is the earliest form of the word to be used as a noun.
Douglas Harper, Online Etymology Dictionary

(3) “Modernism is our Classical Antiquity”
Roger M. Buergel’s mantra as curator of Documenta 12

“The idea to put together an international Exhibition on the art of the 20th century in Germany is so obvious, that there seems hardly any need for explanation.”, thus gives Werner Haftmann as introduction into the catalogue on the first Documenta 1955 in Kassel. Evidently the makers of this first mass-art-show were exactly clear about what would make the art of their century. After my tour around the Documenta 12, however I was clear about this being the last Documenta for me to visit. While the curators of the three preceding exhibitions would have tried, to draw a picture of today’s art – and would fail, everyone in his own way, 2007’s exhibition had abandoned to define something like “classical art of our time”. What could give the impression of negligence or of idleness of the mind of the curator, I would today take as a symptom for upheaval in visual arts, which will be shaken in a similar way like media, music industry, and all the other so called creative arts.

Modernism – modern art, like it has evolved during the last three centuries – is classical antiquity, exactly like Roger Buergel says. Like the scholastic adherence to the antiquity had governed thought and creativity in modern occidental culture for a long time, the modern-contemporary terms and categories are still seen as the measure for “classical” quality. Review and analysis of contemporary art either lead to anaemic formalism, like in the latest issue of Kunstforum, or end up in total randomness, just like the last Documenta.

Helpless we look around: isn’t there something to step in place of the old and venerable? A new generation? A new direction? Bruce Sterling gives the answer in his nearly hour-long closing-speech at the Vimeo Conference. The new is already there, and thus as vernacular, popular dialect, cant, in short: standing outside the classical culture. The new can be found in the vernacular culture of the Net.

You might argue, that this insight is neither new nor very inventive; the Internet rolling up culture out-and-out is told in whole annuals of Wired and thousands of hours of TED-conference. But Sterling says something different from that: To recognise the new, we have to be able to speak about it. The (professionial) terminology of cultural sciences and the critics is still the Lingua Franca of Modernism. At the same time, the vernacular of the Net-culture is not much more as a jargon yet.

The Shape of future art (as long as we still want to use this word, compromised by the “adoration of the genius” and by the bourgeois production process) could look like Urban Art or Generative Art – Favela Chic, to speak in Sterling’s words – or the eclecticism, peculiar to Net culture, the Bricolage, the Collage, Punk – Sterling’s Gothic High Castle.

This vernacular culture is distinct from classical contemporary culture particularly by its conditions of production. The classical author, artists or composer is remunerated by judicially sanctioned transfer systems like HFA, MCPS, SESAC – or he is directly employed by the state, as a university professor, member of the state orchestra or editor in the public broadcasting system. In opposite to that we find the much lamented “for-free-culture” of blogs, online video, the remixes and covers, and the so called “citizen journalism”, and so forth and so forth. And even if it might occur obvious to some, to just transpose the way of production of the classical culture onto the vernacular creativity of the Net, however this effort is doomed: the categories of the old world gain no longer traction; the people do not want to speak Latin anymore, because Italian now gives them the most fluent ability for expression.

Enhances
“Stand on the shoulders of Giants”
Accessibility of knowledge
Retrieves
everybody a publisher
oral tradition
dilettante / amateur

Non-Commodity-
writing

(Decay of Copyright)

Reverses
Bricolage (Ecclecticism)
Generative Art
New definition of Public Space
Obsolesces
Assembly-line book
mass-marketing for books
book-fairs

In the table on the left I tried to interpret this development with Herbert Marshall McLuhan’s Tetrad:

As this change’s consequence we will, however, see only few more big novels, only rarely someone will take the risk to produce an expensive, full-length movie, or to practise a symphonic work of Musica Viva with an orchestra. What we experience is the comeback of the dilettante, in the best sense, of the enthusiast; “Everybody a publisher” means: Non-Commodity-Production of Culture.

Read more:
“So literature collapses before our eyes” – Non-Commodity Production
The End of History – for creative professionals.

Slow Coding

by Regine Heidorn, Bit-Boutique®.

[Read this post in German]

The breathtaking speed with which some products arising from programming like software or websites seem to be developed may mislead over the fact that programming is not a fast kind of work.

Code is poetry – the slogan absorbed by WordPress – stands for one of the many movements of digital poetry coming into existence with the arrival of Zuses computers in the mid 1950s. Artificial texts result from the programmatic exchange of words as for example “Substitute each n-th noun of a text by the n-th following noun of a certain dictionary.“ – one of the experiments of Oulipo (Ouvroir de Littérature Potentielle, Working Group for Potential Literature), formed in 1960 in France, who viewed text as a fabric and fathomed the potential of aesthetics of artificial texts under laboratory conditions.

Code is poetry – in regard to the production of programming code requirements are compressing to efficient because dense production of text. Characterized by the least possible number of lines of code and characters in preferably clear nomination of either the elements of the underlying programming language and the author-chosen elements like variables and functions. The less characters and lines of code the less typewriting for the code-genesis. The more meaningful the nomination, the less semantically unambiguous, the easier the maintainability of the code. Various discussions about the structure of an ideal programming language gather around those basics.

The sense of programming is, similar to assembly line production of bulk goods, to split operations into recurring steps. Being the definition of a first criteria for the usage of programming: the operation to be programmed is anticipated as a concept which is the base for estimating expenses. Anticipating too much speed in this stage means running the risk of exploding budgets. That may result in unmanagable projects. Thus revealing another criteria for the usage of programming: the expenses of programming are measured by the defined purpose of a production step or an operation consisting of several such steps. Transformation into programming will be worth the trouble if expenses for the development of a programmed product and the integration into existing operations fall short of the expenses for operations to be substituted.

This approach is based on the assumption that the expenses of programming could be determined in advance. In fact it‘s only infrequently possible to reuse already existing software or script-libraries without verifying their applicability for the specific project-case. Programming processes contain a variety of basic requirements that are subject to permanent technical change: the chosen programming language itself is subject to change as is our everyday language. Some wellknown script-libraries or frameworks may not be maintained anymore, (new) hardware might be incompatible to some well-established programming-habits, the clients‘ usage of outdated hard- and software might prevent the usage of already established innovations in programming, maybe the hard- and software to be programmed for is already patched specifically and thus may avoid further extension. If in the latter case the documentation is incomprehensible or, worse, doesn‘t even exist, expenses are becoming incalculable. Constantly security vulnerabilities are discovered prohibiting the usage of up to then valid script-snippets. Losses in performance evolving from a certain programming-habit might force to switch to a completely new way of programming for projects being more complex.

All those conditions make up for one basic requirement of a programmer: re-reading. Rereading of own programming code for up-to-dateness and compatibility. Rereading the code of others in order to patch it with own extensions. Rereading of programming languages in order to check for the parts needed to realise individual project objectives. Rereading the code to check the criteria for security and compatibility. That‘s why programmers live in constant consciousness that their code on the date being delivered certainly is state-of-the-art but nonetheless already outdated.

“Re-reading, an activity totally against commercial and ideological habits of our society, calling us to ‘throw away‘ history as soon as consumed (…) so that we have to pass on to another story, buying a new book … re-reading is suggested here to begin, because it solely prevents the text from repetition (the ones not being able to re-read are forced to read the same (hi)story everywhere).“ (translation into English by Regine Heidorn)

Roland Barthes states in 1981.

Rereading is preventing code from repeating his history: reproduction of incompatibilities and security vulnerabilities. Cementing intricate programming and incomprehensible nomination resulting from not reflecting the use of already existing code. Adopting useless functions for the actual project that might become incalculable reasons for misfunctions. Transporting routines that might not have any function at all because they were solely coded to meet specific requirements of the previous project.

“The ones not being able to re-read are forced to read the same (hi)story everywhere“ – this is exactly what‘s happening eg to webdesigners who learned their HTML at the beginning of the 1990s and didn‘t change their habits of code-production. The result are websites based on outdated code and being incompatible to innovations such as mobile internet usage. Superfluous to tell that rereading requires time, same applies for checking the requirements for programming to establish realistic project-budget and schedule.

Code is poetry – on the contrary to prose poetry is dense – few words transport compressed meanings. Meanings also subject to change in programming languages and occasionally producing trivial redundancies. “For the master craftsperson, great code and great poetry are lean and trim, with no excess of words or other unnecessary elements.“ states Matt Ward in Smashing Magazine. Programming is a creative process demanding concentration. Slow coding thus is not a sophisticated postulate of aesthetic polemics but a semantic redundancy, a pleonasm. Which as a rhetoric figure is of ongoing importance because the breathtaking speed with which some products arising from programming like software or websites seem to be developed may mislead over the fact that programming is not a fast kind of work.

“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.