Category Archives: Literature

The White God 1: Kurtz

He’s been haunting me. In the past few months, he’s been following me in the books I’ve been reading: Blood Meridian, Heart of Darkness, and now The Windup Girl. The character is a little different each time, whether he shows up as Kurtz, Judge Holden, or Gi Bu Sen/Gibbons—yet there is no mistake. He is a figuration of white, European Humanism, for whom science and technology provide the instruments for the brutal colonization of non-whites and nonhumans alike. He is a white god of death, whose anthropomorphism and ethnocentrism fuel a blinding nihilism… Continue reading The White God 1: Kurtz

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Kafka Wired: In the Penal Colony and The Metamorphosis by Martin Senn

A good friend of mine over at Carleton, Stuart Murray, was showing me a mock-up of a “fact sheet” that the university was putting together on his work. Clearly the design folks over there were at a loss as to what image to use for the big splash page, since they had copped a lo-res picture of some statue of Plato (or Socrates) from iStockphoto, blew it up, and slapped it in, watermark and all. He’s at a bit of a loss, since his work crosses a number of fields and topics: “What says “biopolitics” and death and ethics and medicine and prison and . . . ?” Remembering that he taught Kafka’s “In the Penal Colony” one year at Ryerson, in a rhetoric course on “Free Speech,” I did a quick troll on Google and found this great work by a German artist named Martin Senn, an illustrator and painter who also does fantastic work with wire sculpture.

Martin Senn. Franz Kafka: Der Eigentümliche Apparataus der Erzählung “In der Strafkolonie.” [Franz Kafka: The Peculiar Apparatus from the Story “In the Penal Colony.”] Wire and modeling clay. 50cm x 35cm x 25cm.
 The “peculiar apparatus” is used in the Penal Colony to carry out an inmate’s sentencing. The condemned lies flat on a bed and has the content of his sentence cut into his body by the “Harrow,” a vast array of quivering needles driven by an electro-mechanical device called the “Inscriber.”

Martin Senn. Franz Kafka: Der Eigentümliche Apparataus der Erzählung “In der Strafkolonie.” [Franz Kafka: The Peculiar Apparatus from the Story “In the Penal Colony.”] Wire and modeling clay. 50cm x 35cm x 25cm.
I suppose its up in the air as to whether or not Carleton would want something like this on its promotional material, especially when its promoting one of their new Canada Research Chairs.

In any event, I find Senn’s representation of the device from Kafka’s tale remarkably evocative of the absurdly inhuman inscription of the Law upon the human subject. Bits and pieces of found materials twist together in a largely empty form to bring incredible violence upon the body of the condemned. And we are, all of us, in Kafka’s world, condemned.

Just ask Gregor Samsa!

Martin Senn. Franz Kafka: Das Ungeheuere Ungeziefer aus der Erzählung “Die Verwandlung.” [Franz Kafka: The Monstrous Vermin from the Story “The Metamorphosis.”] Wire and modeling clay. 30cm x 30cm.

The Death of the Reader

Cover for The Diamond Club.
The Diamond Club is a “fake” erotic fiction book that broke into the top five on iTunes paid ebooks in a matter of days. The authors, comic podcasters Brian Brushwood and Justin Young, noticed that iTunes top ten is dominated by erotic fiction, following on the success of E.L. James’ Fifty Shades trilogy, which currently takes position in the top three. Wondering how easily and quickly they could capitalize on the moment, the two crowdsourced material from their fanbase and cobbled together a novel, the only consistency of which lies in the names of its main characters and an abundance of sex. With a 99-cent price tag and a convincing Fifty-Shades-ish cover, Brushwood and Young have roundly trolled James’ books and, at the same time, delivered a pitch-perfect illustration for any undergraduate professor teaching Roland Barthes.

In the final paragraph of “The Death of the Author,” Barthes writes that the “total existence of writing,” the very ontology of literature, is essentially a crowdsourced effort: “a text is made of multiple writings, drawn from many cultures and entering into mutual relations of dialogue, parody, contestation, but there is one place where this multiplicity is focused and that place is the reader, not, as was hitherto said, the author. The reader is the space on which all the quotations that make up a writing are inscribed without any of them being lost; a text’s unity lies not in its origin but in its destination.” With this in mind, he declares that “the birth of the reader must be at the cost of the death of the Author.”

While the The Diamond Club may be indicative of this post-authorial scene of literature to an almost painfully obvious degree, I wonder if it is also indicative of the reader’s death.

In that same final paragraph, Barthes writes that the reader, as the destination of the text, “cannot any longer be personal: the reader is without history, biography, psychology; he is simply that someone who holds together in a single field all the traces by which the written text is constituted. Which is why it is derisory to condemn the new writing in the name of a humanism hypocritically turned champion of the reader’s rights.” This anti-humanist sentiment certainly rang with a revolutionary tone for Barthes, promising a fully democratized or socialized literature. Today, however, it seems to me to point to something potentially much more cynical: that there may no longer be a “reader” who unifies, “in a single field,” the “tissue of quotations” that constitute any particular text. Instead, there may only be that distracted someone, identified as a series of overlapping demographic markets, whose increasingly fragmented field of attention is bought and sold by trolls of all sorts.

Counting (Electric) Sheep

Over at Berfrois, the eds. have put together a sampling of international Philip K. Dick book covers.  The cover for the Danish edition of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is so marvellously weird that I had to see what other covers Androids has sported.  Here are some of the more interesting specimens. (NB—I used a simple Google search to find these images, but you can find an extensive cover gallery for many of Dick’s novels here.) Continue reading Counting (Electric) Sheep

Requisitioned by The Future

Time was no longer sequential; past and present had stalled; everything had been requisitioned by The Future.

A statement to describe contemporary globalized society, which has been requisitioned by a political economy of risk.

Richard Calder, Dead Boys, in Dead Girls, Dead Boys, Dead Things: A Trilogy by Richard Calder (New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 1998), 227.

Micro Empire

Micro Empire from Clemens Wirth on Vimeo.

Clemens Wirth & Radium Audio present:

Micro Empire

…moving on from Macro Kingdom, we pass through the portal of a microscope to venture into the Micro Empire … surrounding us … inhabiting us …

Stranger than fiction… molecular conflict and mitochondrial warfare … a heartstopping, subcellular epic … a truly microcinematic experience …

“as an enthusiast for little things, I wanted to go deeper than the macro universe, so I found myself hanging on the eyepiece of a microscope. The real challenge was definitely the small depth of field in microscopy. It’s really fascinating how detailed this tiny world is.

The world of microbes may be small in scale, but how small is humanity, compared to the vast, uncanny empire of the unseen? Continue reading Micro Empire

A Compact Made before Her Creation

At the annual Game Developer’s Conference held in San Francisco this past March, French game studio Quantic Dream presented a tech demo of their latest achievements with the graphical capabilities of the PlayStation 3 and their use of motion capture technology.

While I did see some bits and pieces of news about the video back in March and glanced at the article on eurogamer.net, it was Shane Denson’s post on the blog for the Initiative für interdisziplinäre Medienforschung (the Initiative for Interdisciplinary Media Research) at the Leibniz University of Hannover, Germany, that drew my attention to it in a renewed way. Continue reading A Compact Made before Her Creation