Saturday, 25 January 2014

On Automating Jenny Holzer

Jenny Holzer is an artist of the aphorism, whose work I have long admired. I used my user-configurable dynamic textual projective surface JanusNode to create some new Jenny Holzer aphorisms by Markov chaining some of her original lines by trigram (a statistical way of creating a new text from an old text). Although this method results in re-use of some input substrings, none of these aphorisms existed in the input in exactly the form shown here.

believing something can make reality more intelligible
a man can't know what it is to be proud of knowing yourself
personal gain potential counts for nothing but a restatement of the old
lack of charisma can be a useful motivating force
investigation is a kind of anesthesia
a natural law governing the new is dangerous as complacency
morals are crackpots
government is a burden on the people who go crazy
decadence can be a meal ticket
you should study as much as possible your parents
believing in rebirth is the most elegant weapon of the old
change anything anyway 
what is dominant in a culture is escapism
sexless old friends are better left in the occasional debauch sacrifice
principles are more valuable than a famous person 
you don't know what's interesting is the appropriate response to most people
dreaming while awake is absurd violence 
playing it safe can cause a lot of damage in the bank
imposing order is man's fate
attractive dying should be advanced at all costs
a nice idea of transcendence is a prerequisite of success
disorganization is more important than metaphor
most people are not fit to rule the mundane
extra money creates taste monomania
the new is nothing except what you sense
repetition is the best way to live in harmony with inferior people
you are the unattainable
stasis is a legitimate area of investigation
wholesome men don't protect you anymore
you should act like money in the bank hiding your own business
noise can be a form of freedom

Monday, 20 January 2014

On Three Books With The Same Name

The original 'book' named The Bride Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors, Even (La Mariée Mise à Nu Par Ses Célibataires Même) was Duchamp's somewhat book-like collection, also known as 'The Green Box', which was published in 1934 in an edition of 320 copies. It consists of a compilation of facsimiles of Duchamp's enigmatic notes (written between 1911 and 1915) for his sculpture The Bride Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors, Even, after which I named my novel

Duchamp claimed to have gone to what seems like absurd lengths to reproduce the notes exactly like the originals, down to the type and shape of paper, and the ink. However, modern scholarship, which has access to the original notes as well as his allegedly 'exact copies', has cast doubt on this claim. Many of the ink and paper types simply don't match and have perhaps even been systematically changed (details are here). 

The notes in The Green Box have been republished in various forms, perhaps most notably in Richard Hamilton's excellent typographic English translation, also titled The Bride Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors, Even (though subtitled A typographic version), which the characters in my novel make sure they have with them when they go on a road trip from Medford, MA to Philadelphia, PA.

It seems to have clearly been Duchamp's intent that his notes to The Bride Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors, Even should be considered in some sense as part of the sculpture, to prevent anyone from thinking they might have just a purely visual relationship to it. You can't just look at the piece. You have to think about it. That is what makes it great.

Monday, 6 January 2014

On Nudity Across Time

 This photograph from a fantastic set of photographs by Japanese photographer Shinichi Maruyama reminded me of (and was apparently inspired by) Duchamp's (1912) famous painting Nude Descending A Staircase, #2, which is, like so many of Duchamp's greatest works, now in the Arensburg Collection at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. This photo was created exactly 100 years after Duchamp's painting, and has almost the same name: Nude #2.
[Image from]

Saturday, 4 January 2014

On What To Read While You Are Dying

There are advantages both to dying quickly and dying slowly. One advantage of dying quickly is that you can avoid the physical and mental suffering that often goes along with dying slowly. One advantage of dying slowly, however, is that you get to choose what to read as you are dying. 

If I am given the opportunity to die slowly, I am going to read Simone Weil's Gravity & Grace while I die. I love Weil's strange and wonderful brand of Jewish/Catholic mystic Existential spirituality. She has lots of good advice for dying slowly, such as but not limited to the following:

  • "The death agony is the supreme dark night which is necessary for the perfect if they are to attain absolute purity, and for that reason it is better that it should be bitter."
  • "I am also other than what I imagine myself to be. To know this is forgiveness."
  • "Grace fills empty spaces, but it can only enter where there is a void to receive it, and it is grace itself which makes this void."
  • "There is, as it were, a phagocytosis of the soul: everything that is threatened by time secretes falsehood in order not to die, and in proportion to the danger it is in of dying. That is why there is not any love of truth without an unconditional acceptance of death."
  • "We must give up everything that is not grace and not even desire grace."
  • "Time and the cave. To come out of the cave, to be detached means to cease to make the future our objective."
  • "May God grant that I become nothing. In so far as I become nothing, God loves Himself through me."
Of course, we are all dying slowly all the time, so it is best if (like me) you read Simone Weil early, and keep re-reading her until you are actually dead.

[Image: Altered illustration from Eugene Talbot's (1898) Degeneracy]