I’ve mentioned before Johanna Drucker’s Diagrammatic Writing, a book that “is as much about itself as a book can be,” (self) referring to every element of book creation and design while demonstrating the reality and implications of those elements in the composition and printing of the book itself. My point has always been to put forward this very intense degree of self-referentiality as a model for writing and thinking, but also, and especially here, as a model of human orders which, I will say, should be as much about themselves as possible. This is what I mean by “idiomatic intelligence,” and it can be summed up in the proposition that sociality is and should therefore explicitly be an ongoing festival commemorating its own origin, both that human order itself in all its specificity but that order as a refraction, or translation, or transcription of human origin itself. We could all be chauvinist in asserting some capture of some element of human origin left undetected by others.
Making human orders as much about themselves as possible involves a practice of translating infrastructures, for which I see literacy and literarity as the model. So, when you tweet, whatever you tweet could be set aside as a phrase, sentence or series of sentences and printed out as a text with some meaning that we could determine and argue about; but in tweeting, you are revealing the Twitter infrastructure which, like any media, becomes invisible as we get immersed in it—so, it’s more like you’re getting Twitter to say something than that you’re saying something through Twitter. This self-referentiality has an abundance of literary and artistic precedents, even if it only become articulated as an agenda in the 20th century avant-garde—rather than, say, “suspend disbelief” and pretend (for yourself?) that the characters in the novel are real people whose experiences you are sharing, you would be reading the novel (and the novel would be written) to reveal various features of narration and the literary devices inherited through millennia of publicly significant story-telling. And this would also include foregrounding usually unnoticed features of texts like printing conventions, publishing and copyright conditions and laws, and so on—all the things that get the novel in your hands in the first place. Indeed, the end point of this is relativizing the boundary between writer and reader and having you compose and be composed by the text.
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The purpose of such literary and artistic strategies is to direct your attention to normally unattended to elements of the scene, to situate you as part of the composition of the scene itself—realizing that everything has been constructed can easily lead to paralyzing cynicism unless you also adopt the obvious corollary, that you’re also doing the constructing. I’m presenting a kind of practice in generalizable terms (that is, anyone, anywhere, could do this things) but doing them will create a thoroughly idiomatic form of intelligence because you’d be directing attention to very specific parts of the “furniture” which can be meaningful only to those who have been using it. You are consolidating rather than dissolving the scene by revealing its scenicity. The boundary between what’s on the scene and what’s outside of the scene is therefore posed as a question. As Derrida said about the text, there is no outside of the scene, and I will use that phrase the same way I think he did, which is not to assert a kind of solipsism but to point out that anything outside of the scene is registered as such by the sensory mechanisms of the scene. We could call this the para-scene, modeled on the para-texts that come along with any texts—those things in the text which frame it as a particular kind of cultural object, like index, table of contents, publisher’s information, pagination, and so on, all of which are markers of various histories. Anything you point to as Other is the other of everything you have, along with everyone else, determined to be the Same on the scene.
We’re at the point, historically, where “exposing the devices” is no longer merely a tactic deployed by those on the margin to arouse those occupying the sleepy norm, but a programming problem. My originary grammar (ostensive>imperative>interrogative>declarative) must ultimately be at the center of this programming of programmers, but it seems it needs some mediation, which might eventually allow it to be introduced more subtly as affordances within other programs. I’ve floated various discursive strategies, derived from, let’s say, para-declarative linguistic modes, so as to provide a home for the grammar: language as prayer (petitioning); the dialectic between “likening” (analog) and the same/other dialectic (digital); and infra-linguistic, fractal writing. All will be given their programming form, but here I’ll start with the analog/digital dynamic. Here, you may remember, I followed up on Alexander Galloway’s “The Golden Age of Analog” in the Winter 2022 issue of Critical Inquiry, using that to give some methodological force to my enthusiasm for Paul North’s exploration of the “logic of likeness” in his Bizarre-Privileged Items in the Universe. So, everything is like everything else, and we could endlessly acquire productive observations from identifying likenesses, obvious and bizarre and arbitrary, but at a certain point (and here I rely on the solidity of realizing that “like,” “same” and “other” are all linguistic primes) we need to say these things (or even this thing) are the same, which we do by distinguishing it from some other. We could readily see the discovery of likenesses as giving free play to the mimetic imagination, with the digital intervention of the same/other distinction being the deferral needed to not only prevent the immersion in likenesses to make social practice impossible but to sustain that field of likenesses itself.
We’re always located on a scene, locked in by the center (some implicit mode of adjudication everyone imagines they could draw upon, something we could all swear to), and this scene is always being converted into a disciplinary space where some part of the scene presents as anomalous thereby rendering the entire scene so and therefore a field of inquiry. If the scene appears anomalous, it is like but not only like some other scene, actual or possible—first of all the scene which it presented as anomalous in relation to, but once we’ve noted that we’re off and running and finding as many likenesses as we need to saturate the disciplinary space. What we then do with each pair of likenesses is have them regulate each other. Here, I draw upon the anti-modern ontological theater Andrew Pickering explores in his The Cybernetic Brain: Sketches of Another Future. A sustained engagement between GA and cybernetics is long overdue, especially given that Eric Gans has mentioned that trying to work out the implications of what Gregory Bateson called “pragmatic paradoxes” was crucial to his formulation of the originary hypothesis. The anti-representational cybernetics Pickering is interested in involves the two “objects” that are “like” each other (although I I’m not sure Pickering puts it that way) being placed in a reciprocally transformative and equilibrating relation to each other—rather than one object (generally the linguistic one) representing the other as an independent thing. This works equally well as a material project as a thought experiment, and you simply proceed by making the two things as like each other as possible, which in practice would mean having some relation within one of the things control some relation within the other.
So, let’s take two sports, which are, for starters, like each other in that they’re both sports. I’ll be obnoxiously American (mainly because I don’t get soccer) and choose baseball and football as the two sports. So, my task is to find as many points of similarity between the two sports. Perhaps a touchdown is like a homerun—they both put the ball out of play and reset the field. The quarterback is like the pitcher, in that they both throw the ball, initiate the play, and occupy similarly central positions. They are both discontinuous, with single plays coming to an official end (unlike the continuous play of soccer and hockey). We could further examine the specific ways teamwork operates in both sports and find further similarities there. Etc. Now, let’s say we wanted to “peg” the football season to the baseball season (they’re not played simultaneously, but let’s leave that aside as a problem to be solved later). That is, some measurable feature of the baseball season would automatically institute a rule change in the football season, and vice versa. We can have any rationale for this we want or no rationale at all—we might just want to see what happens (and maybe that will generate a rationale for next time). So, if, say, an above average (how do we calculate averages, etc.) number of homeruns are hit 30% of the way through the baseball season football teams are allowed to throw only a below average number of passes for the first 30% of the season. We could keep pegging the sports to each other in new ways, and we would get to the point where you couldn’t talk about one sport without talking about the other, and they would become a single “thing,” in some very important respects, with new cultures of media coverage, fandom, statistical analysis, gambling, etc., emerging. We could imagine doing this for the entire sport, or just for selected teams in each sport. We get to the point where the sports are so like each to be the same (not only and always the same, since things never are) in the way anythings are the same, as anchoring points of reference of the central intelligence. Now, further imagine one town doing this with its high school sports teams, and consider how different, how idiosyncratic or idiomatic that town would be relative to even the neighboring towns.
Of course, much of our various infrastructures already bear such cybernetic relations to each other—to take one small example, changes in resources within colleges regarding support for one type of course or major rather than another will be pegged with fluctuations in the job market, and while the job market may be the dominant partner, there is some reciprocity. This is the argument for the “free market” and it might be a good argument if capitalism really operated or could operate this way on larger scales (rather than in the marginal spaces where one must scrounge for resources). The most important things to be pegged don’t get pegged at all—for example, try and identify some correlation between copyright and patent law and its enforcement and intellectual creativity and innovation. There’s no feedback from discernable blockages in intellectual invention to IP laws. But there’s some recognition that there should be, even in the formulaic justifications of IP law itself. Here, then, would be a sign of power, and an approximation towards lessening the imperative gap: establishing reciprocally communicating likenesses between this domain of the juridical and the disciplinary. The end point would be something like the subscription model of a tributary economy (but I didn’t use that term) I developed in a GAblog post several years ago, with producers and consumers within different economic units continually adjusting a normal mode of distribution in accord with developments in needs and capacities. This would require both a very high degree of intelligence (“smarts” as well as a continual influx and sifting of information) and idiomaticity (familiarity with precise sets of needs and the human organizations devoted to meeting them).
As programmers, that is, as actors, or “bearers,” who would like to do more than complain about “injustices” and “tyranny,” if we learn how to point out ways in which institutions and practices can be made more like each other to the point where they’d be controlling each other and thereby allowing new imperatives to enter the system, we would be changing things. As always, there’s a spectrum from the satirical and absurdist (having, say, the changing personas of a pop star pegged to the introduction of legislation) to the directly practical (like the relations between education and industry). We don’t need an ideology to look for ways in which the most exciting prospects in technological development could be made reciprocal with the most impactful pedagogical practices. In fact, if we get good enough at this kind of thing, maybe it becomes possible to bypass the pathological and dysfunctional political institutions and processes altogether and build sovereignty directly into these idiomatically intelligent pathways. Tactics for disabling sabotage from state and capitalist institutions alike can be built into the reciprocal regulation. All this is under the umbrella of data security as an operational cybernetic system between ostensives, imperatives, interrogatives and declaratives. Declaratives are just studies in the fulfillment of imperatives, within a world of competing imperatives (which finds voice in interrogatives), and the fulfillment of any imperative is in a new ostensive, which redeems the ostensive of which the imperative was first of all a prolongation. Never disobey (that’s an order)—if your self in its scenicity can not obey the most direct command due to the swirling of contrary imperatives, including those coming from the same source, then find some way of obeying more consistently, more coherently, and leave the judgment as to whether you have done so to those who will narrate it, perhaps “unjustly” but also perhaps finding it difficult to avoid leaving traces for more conscientious and inquisitive examiners to gather and reconstruct. Generating a system of likenesses will be very helpful in this regard. This kind of practice involves very high levels of deferral, of the kind needed for the creation of a new officer class (the programmers of programmers).
It seems that bringing into focus the grammatical sequencing requires ongoing scaffolding of the technics of literacy: an ostensive only emerges within a disciplinary space, and so the problem becomes one of performing disciplinarity in terms of their modifications of practices constitutive of literacy. I’ve been critical of David Olson’s notion of prose as the creation of a simulated scene upon which writer and writer imagine seeing the same thing together, but all that needs to be done here is follow the construction of actual scenes to see that the very goal of imaginary presence functions to include and exclude in complex ways. So, “here’s the imperative we’ve been following” has to follow an inquiry into the space upon which we might obey it and can only very suggestively precede it. But the description of the space itself takes place on a scene, one which cannot take the vocabulary of the scene being described as given; while, at the same time, we should know by now that no unalterable meta-vocabulary can be imposed. So I’m going to suggest, and see if I can keep in mind and work out a meta-vocabulary drawn from the practices of literacy, now including programming and media literacy themselves as a way of singling out “meta-ostensives” that enable us to analyze the workings of a disciplinary space. The categories of print literacy are most embedded, and the claim that I’m making is something like the following: our thinking is more explicable in terms of the construction of texts in terms of paragraphs, punctuation, pagination, tables of contents, indexes, introductions and conclusions, problems of paraphrase, summary, translation, transcription, transliteration and paratextuality in general than in terms of the “cognitive” concepts that presuppose the stage of “classic prose.” All of these concepts of literacy, to which we will of course add algorithmic thinking (and feeling) along with all the other media that have shaped our thinking and perception (the “user,” “interface” and “address” of the “stack”), and which can be made to serve as indexical signs of the administrative, technological and scientific infrastructures at the origin of all written discourse, do present as requirements (they’re mostly the kinds of things one gets corrected on as a student), which is to say, affordances and ultimately imperatives, and therefore might provide the “platform” for exploring the programming power of the grammar of the center. The direct use of media to describe subjectivity or, as I would prefer, selving, generating likenesses across spaces, would be the lever overturning logocentrism, which has turned out to be far more entrenched than might have been expected.
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