October 5, 2001

The great aesthetic crisis of The
West: all must be nice and neat
and tidy, lined up into rows,
smoothly painted and polished,
but when we really get a world
like this, we find it dull and            UNIFORM_AND_SHAPELESS
unsatisfying.  Given any vacation
time and modest resources we
all run off to the _real_
places: either natural sites,                  Or more likely,
or older cities built before the               "natural" sites.
mania for order completely
swallowed things up.                              Consider Yellowstone:
                                                  Managed wilderness,
Given enough wealth, the world can                a paved road and a
be remade in our own image.                       parking lot for every
         Monsters of the
         super-ego are born.

Saw an article in a zine by a
woman living in sili-valley: she
complains that the trouble with
suburbia is that the obsession
with newness obliterates all
contact with history.                     "History" has some strange
Ruins are fascinating -- she              significance to lefties that
hopes -- not because of the               I am only just beginning to
"romance of decay", but because           grasp.
they are history made visible.
                                            E.g. in the campus culture wars,
If you stroll along the waterfront          the multicultis dismissed the
on the bay in San Francisco, most           arguments for "color-blind"
of the scene has been remade into           policy as being "ahistorical".
neat-and-clean ticky-tacky.  One of
the few things that stands out is           E.g. Someone writing for
the crumbling remains of some old           "Maximum Rock n' Roll" slips
wooden docks: rows of dark brown            in what's evidently
pylons pushing up out of the water;         supposed to be a killer dig,
the remaining dock work sags down           the marxist jargon "in
in peculiar organic curves rarely           apparent disregard of the
found in our architecture.                  historical specificity of the
I don't think the appeal of these
docks is that they remind of a past
when shipping was more central to
SF's economy; nor do I think it's
_solely_ a matter of "the romance
of decay"... rather they're
beautiful because they're unplanned
(or not _entirely_ planned).

When we try to create something;
it comes out ugly, or at least bland,
in nearly every case.

A reflection of the deep
limitations of human intellect,
or at least western intellect.           I don't mean to presume
                                         that eastern intellect
                                         has magically evaded these
          AGES                           kind of problems, and if
                                         only we could recapture
                                         the wisdom of those ancient
                                         noble savages all would be

                                                 I throw in caveats like
                                                 "western" because that's
                                                 the culture I'm familiar
   John Cage's solution:                         with.  A traditional
   create the new by                             Japanese architect might
   embracing randomness.    CHAOTIC_SOUND        be expected to do better
                                                 than a traditional American
                                                 in these respects...
   Brian Eno's idea: create a
   set of rules to use as a
   "seed" and watch what grows
   from it.

   Improvisational musicians
   try to move faster than the
   boot of the super-ego.

   The conservative approach:
   distrust the new, build                AGES
   replicas of the old in the
   hopes that evolution ("the
   test of time") will have
   delivered the solution
   that they're not capable
   of determining on their

   Then there's drugs: many           (typical for me:
   an artist at least claims          this one is an
   that they're out to                afterthought.)     DRUGS
   narcotize Morton Rigor.


  The key issue in art,
  politics and code:

     The need to intelligently           UNCONSTRAINED
     manage your own stupidity.

          As for code, consider all
          the doctrines of Correct
          Programming that have arisen
          of the years.

          All of them seem to boil
          down to an injunction to be
          orderly.  If you just pick
          the right set of rules and
          stick to them closely,
          quality will be achieved.

          The different doctrines are
          adhered to with religious
          fervor by their adherents.
          When they result in failure     Original doctrine:
          it is presumed that the         Object-Oriented Programming
          doctrine was applied
          incorrectly.  Then an           Ancillary doctrine:
          ancillary doctrine accretes     Interface inheritance,
          around the original: it         not implementation        And now
          explains the correct way of     inheritance.              (2009):
          applying the doctrine.                                    roles not
          Eventually it is admitted       Ancillary doctrine:       interfaces.
          that the original doctrine      Design Patterns.
          is incomplete (it is "not a
          silver bullet"), but no            Fad of the future (?):
          apology is ever heard for          Extreme Programming.
          it having been oversold

          The implication is that
          this is *not* a flaw in the
          original doctrine, since it
          is unreasonable to expect
          anything to be a "silver
          bullet", though this *is*
          how it was sold in the
          first place.

          And this sets the stage
          for the next
          intellectual fad.

To veer back toward art:

The sound of the beach vs. the sound
of the highway.  The white noise from            But then,
each is so similar but nearly all                the peculiar
prefer the commutation of the sea                vroom/swish
to the sound of highway surf.                    of the highway:
                                                 that wasn't
   And many prefer the                           exactly *intended*
   gurgling water                                was it?
   sculpture to the

There's a strong component of the
unintended, the unplanned, the
_undesired_ in much of what we
find beautiful.

      Ugliness has to do with getting
      what you ordered and finding it                 And beauty is
      wanting?                                        getting what
                                                      is disordered.
  I'm not comfortable with this line of
  thought, but it has to be followed.
  It seems inescapable, though I remain
  uncertain of all the details.

        The self isolated is unreliable and limited.
        It must be engaged in the world, perpetually
        scrambled by external (random?) input.

        All good work must be compromises with the
        materials, the moment, the deadlines, your
        fading energy, your waning enthusiasm.

        Infinite time and freedom are invitations
        to laziness, and the doorway to the
        solipsistic trap.

                      Count Zero
                      doesn't count.

    For my first trip to Burning Man, I decided
    to try to build a large structure out of         BURNING_MOMENTS
    slotted angle iron.

    In the months before the event, my head was
    swimming with various possibilities (the
    overall shape of the structure; the details of
    hub connection methods; the purpose of the
    structure -- aeolian harp, observation
    platform, windmill driven noisemakers...  All
    of these possibilities had to coalesce into
    one, real physical object.  To me, the
    finished product seemed slight, but everyone
    else found it impressive because they couldn't
    see the missed opportunities, only what was

           Why trouble to complete a work,
           if it's perfect in your imagination?

               Because it's *not*
               perfect really:          Also, it can't communicate,
               just a hazy cloud        unless built.
               of potentials.
                                           Art may not absolutely
               Constructing it is          *need* to be communicative,
               playing tennis with         but most of it has to do with
               the net up.  It             the interaction of minds...
               forces the final
               choices on you.

    Why not annihilate          EXTREMES
    the self? If not the
    self of the audience,
    the self of the artist.

    The world exists, the
    enlightened eye can
    appreciate it's beauty,
    why bother interfering         Eh: why not?
    with the natural
    arrangement at all if          Because producing intentional
    the controlled is so           art has communicative and
    uniformly worthless?           therapeutic aspects...

                                                                Maybe mostly
                                                                for the
                                                                artist, but
                                                                also for the

                                      And the intentional
                                      doesn't negate the
                                      virtues of the
                                      unintended (and
                                      certainly need not
                                      replace them).

                                                      Either-or? Nah.

                          The fantasy novel.  In principle, it is
                          constrained solely by the imagination
                          of the author.  There are no rules (or
                          more precisely, the author can choose
                          any rules) but in practice almost every
                          fantasy novel is much like every other.
                          Generic, derivative...  A form that
                          _could_ be astoundingly rich is more
                          often than not quite thin.

                          The ability to be anything in
                          principle becomes an excuse to not
                          really be anything in particular.
                          One needs no deep knowledge of
                          anything to write a salable fantasy

                          No political philosophy
                          or historical knowledge
                          is required to hack out
                          another quasi-medieval
                          good king/bad wizard battle.

          Music where the artist is free to choose
          any set of rules is music that is
          limited to only one function.  It
          demands focused attention.  It cannot be
          backgrounded, it cannot be accompaniment
          to popular dance, it cannot be a vehicle
          for words or worship.

                 At least not reliably:
                 it can serve a few of these functions
                 for awhile, but only for awhile...
                 until the artist changes the rules

   Here, I try to treat all
   art and design as the same.

      But clearly there are
      differences, maybe
      crucial ones...

         Words and music have different
         limitations: the improvised or
         the random play much better on           CONCRETE_MUSIC
         the 88 keys than the QWERTY.

But even in the realm of prose, it's
best if not too tightly controlled.
I find Flaubert's tortured precision           BOVARY
dull and flat compared to Balzac's
expansive ramblings.

Note: the best of the current generation
of music is the independently produced.

The major labels of the music industry
retains their grip on the ears of the            Grip?  Maybe collars?
sleepwalkers but anyone who wants to can
now slip that leash and find a near              Yes, their high,
infinite universe of artist produced and         heavy iron collars
packaged sound.                                  locked around the
                                                 throats and ears
                            MUSICAL_DAMAGE       of the sleepwalking
                                                 zombies, trapped in
   Un-mediated music is                          their hideous half-life,
   almost a prerequisite                         un-enlightened by the
   for quality... and         Oddly, though:     piercing purple beam
   yet in the world of        Cheap CD-Rs        of the rhetoric of
   prose, the vanity          are an             freedom, the reasoned
   press is regarded          exception.         rant of power, the
   almost universally as                         righteous rap of the
   the mark of                CD-Rs are          just.
   mediocrity.                getting a
                              bad rep: too              Like this.
   If you can't get the       much total
   seal of approval of        junk is             the doom of contentment
   a real editor, then        getting             the law of the landless
   don't bother me with       burned.             the lay of the landing party
   it.                                            the lair of the libertarian
                              Though there        the lei of the beast
   Except: fiction (and       is one small
   poetry?) is clearly        CD-R label
   different from the         putting out                      Yeah,
   "non"...  personal         some really                      it's
   ramblings make up          great music:                     getting
   many a readable,           Limited                          late.
   self-produced zine.        Sedition.
   Small press fiction
   is much less likely           TOTAL_IMMERSION
   to be readable.

   (Though of course it's
   not that hard to think
   of poor standardized
   product rubber-stamped
   by a professional

Does touristy = inauthentic?

Because tourist sites are designed to
be looked at by people?

Or not just people, but mere

As opposed to

   suburbanites who come in on

   residents who've lived here a year
   and will return to the 'burbs

       It often seems to me that the
       trouble with tourist sites is not
       so much that they're designed, but
       they're designed stupidly, for         But above I harp on how the
       and perhaps by the stupid.             *intent* to design seems to
                                              corrupt, irrespective of
                                              the intelligence of the

          Some of tourist sites don't
          strike me as mindless:                 In the college radio world:
          e.g. the cable cars in SF.             a DJ grabbing a card and
          Because they remain a                  reading it live on the air,
          practical form of transit?             will invariably sound better
                                                 to me than a pre-recorded
                    Possibly: the rule           announcement where someone
                    is that authentic            has carefully avoided making
                    tourist sites are            "mistakes".  The sound of a
                    historical, which            human being stumbling though
                    is to say that they          a reading the first time is
                    evolved rather than          so much less off-putting, if
                    were designed.               not actually engaging.

                         Though once evolved,
                         they were frozen in
                         place by design.         But: post-war they
                                                  wanted to destroy
                                                  the cable cars --
                                                  citizen activists
                                                  objected.  Design,
              Attempts at preservation            or evolution?
              can be a subtle destruction.



   The above is essentially the second draft
   of a letter to the Toadkeeper.
   I hadn't intended to go off on this            TOADKEEPER
   stuff, but it turned out that I had a
   lot I wanted to say about this sort of

   The primary difference (at the
   moment) is that I think that this            On the other hand, it also may
   version makes it clearer that these          make it look like I'm making
   are lines of thought I'm playing with,       flat statements about what I
   without necessarily believing in any         believe is true.
   of this stuff.
                                                    It might be more to
   It's also shorn of personal remarks,             the point to say that
   random remarks about things I've been            I make much less effort
   reading, and so on.                              to make claims about my
                                                    beliefs one way or the

                                                      Who really cares
                                                      what I believe?
                                                      The idea means more
                                                      on it's own than
                                                      whatever my religion
                                                      of the moment is.
                                                      Or at least that's
                                                      the ideal.