parataxis   computer: define
putting things side by side

It is Friday evening, and for the first time this week I am watching The News Hour and a story about Walter Isaacson and his new biography of Steve Jobs. Listening to him talk, I understand that Jobs’  “insanely bright machine” is most certainly why I can even login, on, or out today, much less be a participant in this seminar And, thinking about Marshall McLuhan, I want to jump around and twist and shout and yell “these are my people,” except I am much too cool. Well, I am twisting and shouting. If I get a bit more nervy in this seminar, I just might video myself (I was about to say “shoot myself.)”

Anyhoo ………………..  the biographer is talking about genius and artistry and how Jobs had both. Isaacson says that “he was able to imagine things that others couldn’t.” And McLuhan says, in that lovely passage we looked at Wednesday, that “the serious artist is the only person able to encounter technology with impunity, just because he is an expert aware of the changes in sense perception.”

Okay, what is the ‘serious’ part and who is the ‘artist’ In these speculations and in ours? “Impunity?” I wish I had more of that.

Apparently for McLuhan, Joyce is serious, jazz is serious, Rimbaud is serious, Blake is serious serious, and poor Toynbee is “ignoring the effect of these forms upon the responses of our senses.” He “acquires the illusion of the third dimension and the ‘private point of view’ as part of his Narcissus fixation, and is quite shut off from Blake’s awareness or that of the Psalmist, that we become what we behold.”

and then McL says:

“For the man in a literate and homogenized society ceases to be sensitized to the diverse and discontinuous life of forms.”

Am I hearing Darwin again?

Is artistry most manifest in discontinuity and the ability to work inside simultaneous multiple frames? I think so, whether discontinuity is catastrophic, a Cambrian explosion, or the side by side images of actor’s face and bowl of soup to denote hunger in Kuleshov’s experiments. Perfectly analytical and perfectly not. The content of the separate images remains but recedes in importance as the edges meet, collide, and exude a new association. Form is less a container but rather a producer of meaning. Advertisement does not mirror the desires of the public for a product – it creates them.


This is old news, I know, but we are often so seduced by content that we can’t see the container that surrounds our discourse.

There is a great photo of McLuhan wearing what looks like a ‘Nehru’ collar.


Not nearly enough

Comment to myself and to the group

I reacted to Ted Nelson in very similar ways expressed by Shelli Fowler and
Jill. I am amazed at how the (yes Shelli) zine-like essay not only envisions so many future developments and dreams, but how much it profoundly evokes that time period and the pedagogical ideas that gained currency in that period. From Paolo Friere,Ted Nelson, Augusto Boal, and now in critical and feminist pedagogies as well as my own theatre work, I live in these concepts. I think education should be pleasurable and free and free of boredom and consequential in people’s lives. I think education should open the imagination, should change oppression, should, yes, augment our intelligence. I am astounded to read these ideas in relation to computers and the digital world.

More of this later. NOTES TO SELF:
Think about Nelson’s excited language.
Talk about co-creating syllabi with students so it is an emerging, living document of the process of a class rather than the intended outcomes of the TEACHER.
Remember that Jerry Farber article? First class, University of Utah, 1968 — I am wearing a Nehru style mini-skirt, my very long hair is in leather-wrapped braids, and I am barefoot. The students are very conservative and tell me to get off the desk before the teacher comes in. I say “I am the teacher.” analyze

get off the desk

smooth your skirt

Pass out the article, “Student As N****,” by Jerry Farber.( Los Angeles Free Press,1967)

Searching for  RELEVANCE and CHANGE


ask if they

see the connection

ask them to write their thoughts

In one of the essays, a student explained about the mark of Cain and people with black skin, the latter being “God’s burned cookies.”
I have more to say about this






A Tangled Bank


In On the Origin of Species Charles Darwin writes his famous “endless forms” passage:

It is interesting to contemplate a tangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitting about, and with worms crawling in the damp earth, and to reflect that these elaborately constructed forms,so different from each other, and dependent on each other in so complex a manner, have all been produced by laws acting around us. These laws, taken in the largest sense, being Growth and Reproduction; Inheritance which is almost implied by Reproduction; Variability from the indirect and direct action of the external conditions of like, and from uses and disuse; a Ration of Increase so high as to lead to a Struggle for Life, and as a consequence to Natural Selection, entailing Divergence of character and the Extinction of less-improved forms. Thus from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely the production of the higher animals, directly follows.There is a grandeur in this view of life, with its several forms, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, while this planet has gone cycling according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple beginning endless forms, most beautiful and most wonderful, have been, and are being evolved.

I love the grace on sweep of his imagination, his obsessive desire to accumulate, classify, theorize, and create. And Darwin agonized and delayed the publication of his Theory of Natural Selection owing to his understanding exactly how radical it was — not only in his scientific circles, but to the guardians of public morality, and his own wife, his deepening, certain uncertainty about the nature of life and its creation. His theory called for, depended on, a huge paradigm shift. He also feared the consequences of his discovery and was publicly vilified and canonized as much as any figure in his century. I though many times of Darwin and evolution reading the previous pieces and again in the Engelbart. The importance of accumulation and selection. of discovering and uncovering structure, of dealing with the random in the apparently chaotic and vastly diversified and abundant natural world.

In many ways, Engelbart’s description of augmentation evokes Darwin’s description of natural selection and descent with modification. For both, the capacity of the researcher to discover sub-structures and structures depended on how his “clerk” could assemble and analyze vast quantities of data. Darwin was his own clerk, collecting and classifying prodigious quantities of specimens — finches, beetles, barnacles, and earthworms,sea turtles and many many more. Imagine what he would do with digital imagination.

———- This was my first thinking, after i woke up my digital imagination. I plan to continue with this after our conversation, but I want to make another point here ———–

John Cage’s “Chance” suggests both evolution and augmentation. Artists look for ways the terms of metaphor collide with each other, creating not only sensory imagery but ideas in tension, sometimes startling, like Donne’s “metaphysical conceits.” They find new perceptions, or old ones revisited through shifts in lenses. What is interesting about chance is that things come together unpredictably but within some kind of framework that is also subject to change, according to material conditions, external environment and cataclysm. Cage created processes by which new combinations of sound could occur beyond any linear or serial sense of occurrence or arrangement by simple logic. Take for instance the piece he did on The Gary Moore Showcalled “Waterwalk.” (check out several of his pieces on Youtube). Things ring, crash, drip, and broadcast static as he moves among them. and it’s in the surprise and the moment of discovery in the properties of the objects rather than a preconceived score that this music stretches the imagination. It’s the 3 dimensionality, the liveness. When I make performances I am interested on what happens when I layer a verbal text over a gestural movement phrase that is created with entirely unrelated texts. What can emerge is a very beautiful trail of associations that comes alive. I am interested in finding out how the process of augmentation suits the concept in the work. I think Engelbart says this in a very different context

I’ll stop here and run to campus for another intriguing discussion.



Saving Time?

My father, Joe Kilkelly, born in 1903, worked at the Anderson Corporation in Bayport, Minnesota. After struggling through the depression doing anything and everything including cleaning cesspools, he was hired by the window makers as an office clerk. In the early 1950’s, he was promoted to the position of “Time Study Engineer,” and his job was to time workers and analyze the assembly operations to determine their efficiency. The book “Cheaper by the Dozen,” was part of my secret reading and was a source of ongoing comment (some incredulous) by my Mother.

……. Here a short digression…….
I was a very late arrival, the youngest of four, and my siblings were in college (the first in our family to go) while I was still pre-adolescent. Among the things they unwittingly introduced me to were Elvis Presley, marriage manuals, and The Life and Times of Adolph Hitler. These things merge in my memory with my Father’s new job. And with dancing — in the 20’s they had won Charleston contests in Crocus Park). My Mother taught me dances like The Black Bottom (which she said wasn’t nice but did it anyway), the Cakewalk, and the Charleston of course.

Time saving, genocide, wars, sex, popular culture, cutting a rug, and rock and roll and early TV.


My Father hated the work. He was bored, restless, and resented the constant pressure. But the money afforded us (working-class with aspirations) a variety of small pleasures like the small boat(with a motor) we could take on the river. We could have small bit more of the leisure as promised in the ads for time saving devices, kitchen devices, automation. So he did save that little bit of time because of the money. Time is money. That automation gave us time to be on the St Croix River on Sundays. Time for occasional meals out. Time to take a road trip in a “new” used car.

But workers did lose their jobs, friends, neighbors who worked in the factory, and my already unaccountably melancholy Father ( we didn’t call it depression then)  became “Joe Kilkelly that Black Irish Son of a Bitch.”

As Weiner says, ” If we, in a small way, make human tasks easier by replacing them with a machine execution of the task, and in a large way eliminate the human element in these tasks, we may find we have essentially burned incense before the machine god.”

Maybe in burning the incense we also learned to blame the human element.

When my Mother died in 1960, l took over household chores, and my Father dried the dishes, and timed the process. If we did the dishes by rinsing them all at once, was that more efficient than one at a time? Just how long did it take to polish the copper bottomed pans? By not polishing did it save enough effort to forego the gleam they lent to a well tended kitchen and the moral outrage of the women in the community? Would my Mother have wanted us to save that time?

When he brought home a blender that promised to make everything, even cakes, he was deeply angry when the cake was bad. My Mother could have told him that.

Not very long after my Mother died, he retired. He couldn’t bring himself to do that work. He died a few years later.

He may have saved time, but  it didn’t save him.

Anderson WIndows still puts out the best windows. Their slogan is “only the rich can afford poor windows.” And their profit-sharing plan, begun when my Dad became a Time Study Engineer, made many people in our little town millionaires — not us, although an Anderson Scholarship gave my my first year of college.

Thanks to Jill for such an evocative story.



Vanevar Bush

In thinking about Bush’s articles ad its internal contradictions, I remember something Susan Sontag said about 1950’s popular movies and what they reflect about post WWII culture:

“We live under continual threat of two equally fearful, but seemingly opposed, destinies: unremitting banality and inconceivable terror.”

Now, admittedly, the enormous potential for previously and literally unimaginable developments in technology are the essay’s main subjects, and the “memex” and Bush’s imagination of “gossamer” webs of connected and retrieved knowledge are astonishing; but in the writing also lurks the fear of what has been unleashed. The very close up experience of Hiroshima ad Nagasaki, the Nazi camps and their killing machines on one hand, and the need of the “advanced arithmetical machines to “to take data and instructions from a room full of girls armed with simple keyboard punches” on the other.

The girls, the clerks, the punch cards — they all feed the machine with “enormous appetites.” The unimaginable magnitude, the size and quantity of the knowledge storage, and retrieval requires that the devices themselves shrink. Such profound contradictions!

And Bush alludes to Ariadne’s slender thread that lead Theseus through the maze to kill the minataur and find his way out and rescue Phaedre (I think this is how it goes).  Bush talks about advances in “new and powerful instrumentalities such as “thermiotic tubes that are capable of controlling potent forces under the guidance of less power than a mosquito uses to vibrate its wings.” Several times in the essay Bush uses tropes suggesting the delicate and insubstantial nature of what technology is becoming, in spite of its destructive power. “As We May Think” has a romance about the beauty and seductive quality of technology. It requires powerful imagination and attending metaphors to think in these terms.

There is a lot to think about here. I wonder how Thomas Kuhn would read next to this, and if there has been a paradigm shift of the kind Bush calls for?