“Was not their mistake once more bred of the life of slavery that they had been living?—a life which was always looking upon everything, except mankind, animate and inanimate—‘nature,’ as people used to call it—as one thing, and mankind as another, it was natural to people thinking in this way, that they should try to make ‘nature’ their slave, since they thought ‘nature’ was something outside them” — William Morris

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

School Math and Privilege

 I just wrote the author of this New Yorker essay and I thought you would like to see my letter: 

Dear Jay, 

Thank you for the very good essay. It resonated with me, and as a white fairly male (!) human I might have something interesting to add to the conversation. Namely that it seems objectively the case that math is inhibited by one’s life if one’s life has obstacles and poverty and crushing things in it. 

I grew up on bare floorboards, not the nice polished kind, my mum (UK) had $15 a week to feed three boys. I ate a lot of internal organs and was very cold a lot. 

I was the top scholarship boy (all fees paid) at a very posh public school (St. Paul’s, Milton went there). But I was a B+ student at math, tops. 

Looking back on it, there was no good reason why if all you looked at was what I was studying. I was great at other “STEM” topics. More on that. And when I was relaxed and happy I was great at math. I was the only student to get a crucial answer right during a very high stakes exam when I was thirteen. All the usual math geniuses couldn’t see the answer. 

My theory is that actually math is not STEM! 

The “math” in STEM is actually computation. Computation is different from math. Show me the number one. No, that’s just your finger. Show me. (This is Immanuel Kant compressed into three sentences.) 

Math derives from Greek mathesis meaning communion. Math means communing. You’ve hit the wall. You’re five years old. One plus one equals what????? You’ve hit the wall. You’re a math professor and you’re 40. Fermat’s last theorem is staring you in the face. 

And you’re fine with that. You’re fine with wailing at that wall all your life. 

This is much more like staring at a poem than it is like pretending to be your iPhone calculator only billions of times slower. 

The solution in the long term: kill STEM. Don't kill computation. Kill the ideology. 

Computation is to math as farming is to eating farmed things or cooking them or imagining them. 

Computation is to math as folding the laundry is to wearing clothes. 

Without being able to wear lovely clothes, laundry folding means you're folding someone else's laundry. 

That is the problem. 

STEM without a reason is slavery—computation is the farming you have to do in order to get the result but why are you trying? You’ve got nothing. Bare floorboards. What’s the point? 

My English teacher showed me the point. He was the fierce encouraging father I didn’t have. My math teacher didn’t. Simple as that. 

Reimagine math as totally different from mere computing. After all mathematicians did it. It’s called the 19th century. Georg Cantor. They invented computation and computers in order to understand what Kant had done: blown up how to be right, no one had thought to check before him…we’re using numbers, but what the heck are they? Set theory. Stuff that Russell and Whitehead and logic hated. Logic that mathematicians turned into pretzels to talk rubbish (Godel, Turing). 

Math is from the future. Computation is from the past. Math is the future. Logic is the past. Math is better than logic. If you don't like your laundry folding method you can change it. Logic is not written in stone. 

Math isn't written at all. Math is communing. Hence the beauty of truth. 

STEM destroys math, because it’s not math. 

The real stem is the humanities. It was called the trivium when trivium meant three-legged stool, not “trivial thing.” You learn how to make meaning (grammar). You learn how to make meanings that are coherent and true on their own terms (logic). You learn how to convey this (rhetoric). 

THEN you can make facts tailor made for the editors of Nature: Biology. 

I can see why Obama emphasized STEM but it’s a tragedy that he did. 

What would be truly empowering for beaten down people would be to get them in touch with the real actual feeling of math, the contemplative feeling. Wall is transparent or mostly opaque, you don’t care. You’re happy to wail. 

The progressive math people are wrong for the right reasons. They intuit something is wrong—the intuition aspect got beaten out by STEM and related issues going back decades. They intuit this is to do with race and class. Yes! The solution, to make computation easier without addressing the real “feel” of math, is wrong. 

The traditional math people are right for the wrong reasons. Good rigorous computation is great, but they have lost the ability to convey why that’s great. It's easy to understand why. We live in a world controlled by engineering. 

Imagine: you’re so poor and crushed. You’re computing all the time. If you have to get to McDonalds for breakfast at 5am before a 50 mile drive to work and etc etc etc, if you’re a kid trying to cross the street without being killed by a white police officer, you’re always, always, always calculating. 

It’s not that you’re “bad” at STEM. It’s that just to cross the street, you have to be a STEM genius. There’s no RAM left to do the school math. 

And you don't why know to do yet more computation, except to please the Man who in your case is your school. There's no reason to do it. You have to do that kind of thing just to walk down a street. 


Your math teacher, instead of making computation easy, needs to make the math feeling really really freely available. I had the "literature feeling" installed by a fierce quite left wing passionate guy. The math teacher could've done that. But unfortunately, performing like a ballet student the best computation moves is a thing that is admired in math. This codes for privilege always winning. You can only do nice ballet if you can afford the clothing and the classes and you have enough RAM in your head left over from walking and shopping and etc etc. 

Being privileged means you don't have to calculate all the time just to survive. So you can excel in math class. You have lots of RAM left over. 

At Rice one English professor’s husband is in the math department. We have found that the overlaps are startling and informative. 

So, to conclude: 

1. Kill STEM or radically reframe it. 
2. Teach “math feel” like great English teachers teach poetry feel. 
This will require educating math teachers more like English teachers. Yes they need to learn about racism etc etc. They do. This is the one lever we have in the absence of the sweeping social changes that will actually make everyone love math. 


3. Let poor crushed students off the computation hook. They’re doing enough already. They’re not failing at math. They don't need to prove for one more second how good they are, because they have to compute all the time. Talk about high stakes testing. They're good: they're still alive. What they need is to write essays about math maybe, learn to meditate--that's exactly what math is. They need a reason why to be alive rather than more survival rules. 

Yours, Tim

Timothy Morton (they/them)
Rita Shea Guffey Chair in English
Rice University

Sunday, November 13, 2022

All The Corners of the Buildings, 2022 Remix or, Glam Ecology

Measurement as part of the mundane world of getting stuff done. Measurement, seemingly extracted from religion as the algorithm that makes it work removed and made available to all. Measurement in religion, an algorithm making religion work by warding off evil through regularly measured repetition such as a mantra. 

But just this "mundane" appropriation of measurement actually executes religion. It's where the rubber of religion meets the road of the real. 

Thou shalt not put the Lord thy God to the test, except insofar as everything you do is only this all the time with increasing intensity. 

Thou shalt not make graven images, unless they are called Google or Facebook. 

Taking things too seriously, including the idea of taking things too seriously, is a form of doubt or despair. You do that because you don't believe it's really going to work. If you don't take it seriously, it won't work. 

It's computation. You know what's coming next. That made you feel safer, until it didn't. 

You have expressed fundamental unbelief as fundamentalism. 

Tragedy automates contingency as fate. Automates it in regular steps, as an algorithm. If you do this, then you can expect that. Take it seriously. We might run out of wheat again. 

Doing the will of God. In the key of not trusting, which is the basic format of the belief mode in the ascendancy in a serious, farming-based society. Knowing it's going to happen as a way of warding off never being sure, and therefore of expressing it in the key of violence to the evil other. 

Comedy shows the automation malfunctioning. Comedy also shows how automation as such is a form of malfunction. 

Glam is made of measurement, swaggering. A victory dance. 

But it is swaggering for a strange reason. 

Glam swaggers in the mode of measurement failing to act out God's will in the real. A swagger not imposed on others. An impotent gorgeousness, as opposed to a violent impotence. 

Victory over victory. 

Ozymandias with an electric guitar. I mean, he's already called Ozymandias for fuck's sake. 

A basic feature of being oblique is failure. You are failing to speak directly. 

Or, to speak directly: this only ends one way. ABORT.

Direct depends on vivid, and vivid uses energy, and we are nearing a catastrophic boundary of this energy use, emulating "nature." ABORT. 

Global warming affects all those workers like the tools that hurt them. It is part of a  tool that is hurting them. 

Glam swaggers in the key of inefficiency. Its excessiveness belies the suavity around which a lot of its performances cluster. If it is acting normal, it is doing so in an over the top way. 

You know, you can really ruin the world by sending Major Tom's spaceship crashing down as a weaponized poop missile. In reality you won't be able to re-experience last year's weather the way you jerk the past in this video. You never could. But now you're going to be taught this lesson in the form of this year's weather being much more threatening than last year's. 

Global warming never said it was better. Steve Jobs would make pin prick ears by making a pig's ear of what wasn't on his to do list. 

The imperceptibility, until it wasn't, was part of the threat. The weather never said it was a symptom of global warming, it was a symptom of global warming, it was a symptom of global warming. 

Something is approaching. Something vast. 

I regret to inform you that you have, in fact, messed with Major Tom. If you want to get things done, to turn the wheel of fate, to execute the program, don't mess with Major Tom. But also just don't mess with him, because he might mess with you. Oh dear. It already happened. Art happened. It messed with you. You're not going to get anything done at this rate. Still a primate at a rave after you ate those leaves. The Renaissance was just how it looked for a scintilla of a moment. 


There is something frighteningly wrong with the idea that good is an improvement on evil. 

Improvement: morally better than, or more efficient than? Or morally better than in the mode of being more efficient? The hesitation is key to the menacing quality of this word. 

I mean, how will we be able to tell? How will we know what improvement means unless we make the rubber of this idea meet the road of the execution of this idea. Gimme an image. Paint me a picture here. That's gotta be better than just some abstract idea of improvement. 


So the abstract idea of an abstract idea is something frightening. It wants to be acted out. It wants not to be an abstract idea. 

Efficiency defined as compression. Reality is compressed fantasy. It packs more of a punch. Capitalism is compressed nature. Steve Jobs with a hand on evolution would've made ears be pin pricks from the start. See my life in a comic. Compression has ruined pop music. 

Goodness is compressed evil. 

Good means more evil. There is evil, and there is more evil. 

Evil is the idea that good is an improvement on evil, because it ultimately gives a choice only between some evil, and more evil. 

The logical next step is that actual goodness is a malfunctioning of evil. The opposite of an improvement. A bug in the system of evil. An inefficiency. 

Why the "do no harm" of the basic Theravadin Buddhism is a great 100dpi jpeg of how to act. 

Politeness is inefficient. 

Politeness is inefficiency.

Symbolic inefficiency. Deliberate symbolic inefficiency. 

I wonder whether it would be possible for us to have a conversation about the possibility of us hypothetically agreeing that politeness is, as it were, inefficiency.

"I gotta better way." I love the off rhyme of the second and third words. Better is just an echo of got a. Gotta is a better version of got a. By eliminating the inefficiency. 

The ultimate better way would be a way that was not trying to be better. I discovered the stars doesn't mean I own them. It means I discovered I can't. 

1 or 0, the first or second tower, with us or against us, good and evil, the idea of their difference is predicated on a continuum. Being against is the same kind of thing as being with. 

Is this continuum a flat line, or a shimmering? 

"Is this actually evil?" is the phenomenology of good. 

The quantum shimmering between on and off. The enigmatic, ambiguous feel of reality and truth, life and symbiosis and evolution and science. A song that is menacing in its adult's view of childlike idiocy. A way of inhabiting a fantasy more: acting it out. 

Mechanical motion is at 45 degrees to the picture plane. The picture as a plane. All the beings in the frame, and in particular the humans. The workers. Death. The skull in Holbein. 

I'll see your idiocy and I'll raise you a counter-spell version of that same idiocy. 

And so it begins, my first foray into a thing I am now going to call glam ecology. We have main engine start. 

...Who but we'd remember these? These blog posts I mean :)) I nicked the idea off of the Floyd's brilliant (full title please) Animals: 2018 Remix. "Yes, fans, it was playing over and over in our heads too, from when first we played 'You Gotta Be Crazy' live, no wait, from 'Careful with That Axe Eugene,' oh, actually, 'Astronomy Domine'...wait a second, 'Interstellar Overdrive,' the way Syd's pinging guitar becomes 'stone, stone stone, stone..."

This song and the video have aged amazingly amazingly well. I'm ready to say to the world: this is my favorite Bowie of all, obscure as it is perhaps. So this post IS the one I wrote in 2009, remixed. I'm gonna write this and hit "update" and you're gonna love it. I gotta better way. 

Yeah, it's David Bowie's “New Killer Star.” 

And the blog post has aged well! This is my favorite post, you know. Best one I've ever done. Hands down. 

Headline: when you put a teleological system (agrilogistics, capitalism) into a non-teleological one (the biosphere), there is a predictable result. The non-teleological one is destroyed. 

Byline: imagine the World Trade Center is a pair of arms holding a lenticular photo...now watch the video. 

Spoiler: the most menacing image (sequence? pair of images?) in the video is the identical twin or just literally copied women playing ball across a pool, followed by the plane. 

Frankenstein wants to see himself in his creature. The creature sees himself in a pool, like Eve. The women are not seeing themselves. They're looking at you in that "knowing" way: there is a meaningfulness here, that knowing porn look...or is it meaningless...meaningfully meaningless, meaninglessly meaningful. How do I...

So the women playing ball are looking in the mirror. We are the mirror. 

Like the woman in red. The mirror at the back shows us her front again, not her back. Which can mean only one thing: we are that woman, looking in the mirror. 

But does that mean we need to reduce the anxiety by clicking a meaning on? 

Is the plane in fact a relief? 

A meaningful vacuity, a vacuous "meaningfulness." No way to tell. The ball hesitates. We work the lenticular photo. Each hand is one of those women. Is one of the Twin Towers. 

This is where you get to not be a psychopath by not murdering the being that seems to evoke this ambiguity. The psychopath rejects the basic ambiguity of being a person, but only by acting out, "teaching it a lesson" in the form of nonsensical violence. And thus expressing how they themselves are always caked with this ambiguity, because they have a body-biosphere that is (in) the future.  

Battery Park...all the corners of the buildings...ready, set, go...terrorism as aesthetic spectacle, and vice versa. Fundamentalism or glam: that's the seventies for you. And in the end, you have to take your pick. 

Oh just admit it: pop was always about killer riffs. 

"I never said I'm better than you" as the way of being better than you. Don't think of a better elephant. How Bush won. 

The groundwork for the fascist clowning of today. More and more and more "real" must the fantasy become. That's what defines better. More real. More acted-out. And therefore more compressed. The multivalence cut down to a single dimension, which ends up meaning nothing because there's nothing to compare it with. 

But two is not better than one. I mean, the number two is not an improvement on the number one. Yet many of us think that two dollars is better than one dollar. Many of us think that courses with a 4 at the start such as 432 are better than courses that begin with a 1 such as 101. 

Doing the same thing again and again is doing a thing to something. On something. In something. 

As something. 

Humans are an aspect of that something. 

Humans have become the evil that they see in the world. They became what they beheld. Evil efficiency. Evil is a compressed way of saying efficient. Efficient efficiency. 

The drive to eliminate inefficiency is evil. The drive to eliminate unintended consequences has a frightening unintended consequence. To eliminate the devil that is always in the details is to create a monoculture of meaning. This is never "sustainable." But sustainability and sustenance are what this is "about." 

Goodness, like life, is an accident. It happens accidentally. It consists of accidents. It is accidental in its innermost being. The real reason to care. For no reason at all. 

Goodness is the Devil. The right kind of Satanism. 


Lots of love etc etc, David Bowie :))))

PS: Glam is a less efficient form of shock and awe. This is because glam doesn't act out shock and awe. Acting out here means shock and awe intervening in the real "to make a point" by bombing people. Making a point here is, in other words, its opposite: it comes in the form of "teaching them a lesson," which demonstrates a place where communication has broken down. By short-circuiting the breakdown, going directly to the pleasurable core of shock and awe, glam neutralizes it in advance. Don't worry, I've got this. Yours with the deepest etc, President Bowie. :)))))

An actually different future society would feel like a series of failures, in other words, creativity. 

In essence, you can reduce pop songs to riffs but also riffs are broken pieces of song, pieces in search of a song, techno as a fragment art version of disco as a fragment of funk as a fragment of the blues...

Making art out of fragments. 


Let's face it. The primordial churning of a killer riff. Why things work. How things get done. The menacing grin. Who controls the nonsense controls the world. 

Major Tom. 

Bowie noticed that the spacesuit was a clown costume. 

The deadly incantation, the magical spells of NASA, which simply describe what is about to be done, but appear to conjure them out of nowhere. These are the messages between Major Tom and Ground Control. Sad faced clown. 

Major Tom. A ridiculous tin can of a name. Using someone's first name is not army regulation. 

Are you smiling or not? An old established test for schizophrenia. And the Mona Lisa. And beauty as an ambiguity woven into how things appear. 

Saying "I'm thinking now" doesn't mean you're thinking now. It's a NASA incantation. Words have a curiously direct effect upon your brain. 

You know I think this is Bowie's "I Am the Walrus." I gotta betta way. Goo goo ga joob.

Also, who are you, thinking that you are the one who discovered the stars? Really? If anyone's done that or is cut out for that, it's me, David Bowie...and numerous astronomers. LOL.

So first up the song and video seem to be doing the same thing: talking about 9/11 by not talking about it but instead kind of miming about it. Gesturing about it. 

The lenticular printing gimmick in the video is a flashback to the 70s when 3D postcards were all the rage. And the Twin Towers are a 70s kind of an artifact (finished 1970–1971). And there are two of them. And you see them kind of like you'd see a lenticular image, flipping from one to the other with a slight turn of the head. So the position(s) from which we see the imagery in the Bowie video is the position(s) of the Twin Towers themselves. This puts us in the awkward, ahem, position of seeing things from the point of view of an object that doesn't exist, as if we were able to peep into a world from which we were excluded—say we are voyeurs, like Mitch in the famous peeping Tom scene in Vertigo, or dead, like Bruce Willis in The Sixth Sense, or the denizens of the Towers. 

Or Bush administration propagandists, reduplicating the terrorists' own mocking appropriation of the emergency call number. A number that contains two towers. II is a joke in binary: it means 3. Where is the third tower? 

It is the forces of darkness, or is it David Bowie? 

Swaggering wastes energy in dimensions that aren't in the direction of travel. Swaggering is walking without moving, pompously and with a huge menacing grin. 

Punk as this swaggering without the safety net of expensive clothing. 

Swaggering is at 45 degrees to the picture plane of measurement. Punk is at 45 degrees to this swaggering. 

Yes. Punk is measurement swaggering in five dimensions. 

This means that parallax is built in to the way we are meant to interpret the song. Parallax means that something appears to be moving against a seemingly static background, but really we are moving and are seeing our movement inscribed “over there” in what we seem to see. Moreover, it's as if this parallax view (good phrase of Slavoj Zizek's) were directly built into the architecture of the Twin Towers. So that the view of the Towers (“of” in both senses) is a view of a digital age in which the logic of binary difference means that there's no single privileged viewpoint from which to view things properly—there's no original tower; not only that, but how we are to look at things is inscribed directly into them (user-friendliness). 

The "second" tower (which?) doesn't say "I'm better than the first one." 

David Simpson's book 9/11 is the best analysis of the Towers as a digital spectacle. If you were looking at reality from the point of view of the Towers, it wouldn't add up to a nice gestalt but would constantly flip from one perspective to another, undermining the Renaissance logic of the vanishing point simply by doubling it (and thus appearing to reinforce it on another level). Surely this parallax logic was designed into the Towers themselves, which stood as a monument to the deconstructive energy of global capital. If you have two lenticular viewpoints, both viewpoints are “wrong”—and two wrongs don't make a right. And there's no position half way between the two viewpoints that reconciles them. Depth perception is a function of parallax, because our two eyes see things from slightly different points of view. 

Lenticular images mimic this in a gratifyingly crude manner. Each vision refuses to be fudged into the other one, unlike the way “normal” perception fudges the view from our two eyes. Perception is thus radically de-realized, removed from the normal boring platitudes about how we always perceive in a “world” that our perception co-creates. In Bowie's song and the video, there is no “world” as such. This makes the song profoundly ecological (though not traditionally environmentalist). The notion of “world” is a kind of stereoscopic illusion of depth based on parallax—the way our twin eyes see things slightly differently gives rise to a sensation that we are embedded within something. But this is only because we are primates with two frontal eyes. A spider would do a very different 9/11 video. This is far more drastic than saying that there are as many “worlds” as there are species. It means that there is no world as such. “World” is purely a projection based on a certain technological setup (in our case, frontal stereoscopic vision). If you still think this is a “world” then you've practically eaten the concept away to the bone. And worlds are supposed to be rich and chewy. 

Far things and near things seem to shift differently. The optical illusion of parallax suggests that our perception of a “world” in which we are embedded, our perception as such, is intrinsically illusory. For any optical illusion to work, optics as such must be something of an illusion. It almost looks real, yet we know it's an illusion (“See my life in a comic, like the way they did the Bible, / All the bubbles and action, the little details and colors”). 

This insight accords with a general insight about ecology. The more we find out how everything is interconnected, the less we can imagine things existing in a “world” that somehow surrounds and supports them. If “We Are the World” then there is no world—it's just us, no? 

Even worse: once we include our subjectivity in our world, as good ecological citizens, we eliminate the possibility of “world” as such, because this depends upon a sort of conceptual upgrade of the optical illusion of depth that only exists as a function of our temporal separation from the things we are looking at. 

Neurochemical signals are always late, because even light has a speed. 

Therefore the biosphere, or "reality" indeed, the title of the album, are phenomenologically (in) the future. The feel called "reality" is not in fact accurate. The reality-feel is of an improvement in palpability (to teach you a lesson). You found a better way. 

This destroys the phenomenology of being tantalized that is intrinsic to one's physical reality, including the physical dimension in which meaning can be inscribed, the "meaningless" surface of however many or few dimensions, being (in) the future. 

Any meaning, any at all, is therefore the past. Meaningfulness, however, is how the future appears. 

The possibility of meaning is based on the actuality of non-meaning, hiddenness, blankness, some kind of gap. It's a pregnant pause, but the birth of meaning is merely a rare form of abortion. A malfunction malfunctioning. Finally the mother ejects the foreign object. A gyno-graph of the smooth protein coat of a virus, called the placenta, delays this ejection, sometimes coincident with the ontogeny of what it is connected to failing to fail. 

It just so happens that sometimes the mother and the other being, either or both, don't die during this event. Both die in the end. 

The refusal not to sound like fragments of quotation, sound-bites either real or imagined, is in fact how this meaningless surface gets to manifest in "New Killer Star." 

It's the way the quotations all line up. Their addressees. Could be Bush. Could be the hijackers. Absolutely could be. 

Fundamentalism, in Bush's or their case, never explicitly says that it's a "better way" than regular forms of Islam or Christianity. 

Fundamentalism never announces that it's reduced Christianity to the wrong kind of Satanism. The wrong kind of Satanism is the belief that Satan is quite often more powerful than God, in the way we imagine the most aggressive versions of that god. 

The fun-damentalism called glam, on the other hand, goes straight to the jugular of pleasure on which fundamentalist religions are based: a feeling of certainty, whose liquid center is a feeling of "better." This is what you actually want. Scream for it. Here we come, to give it to you. 

This is how "born again" gets to mean something. It means The first time wasn't enough. Wasn't enough in the sense of wasn't real enough. Doesn't feel real enough. Not vivid enough. Here is vivid. Right here. See the sparkle. Bring it on. Bang a gong. 

Idiocy felt as delight. Teach me everything means I love not knowing. Meaningless surfaces, having an orgasm. I am a blank slate is actually an expression of excitement in the mode of an acceptance that patriarchy and racism reify as "passive." 

The view from the World Trade Center turns what appeared natural into a lenticular fantasy image that we immediately recognize to be a stereoscopic illusion. Depth is only possible because of a fudged switching beween twin points of view. There is no depth as such. Depth is simply part of our phenotype, the way our DNA expresses itself. The World Trade Center acknowledges the fact that we are primates with eyes in the fronts of our heads, making this fact appear in a somewhat humiliating way, as if we were drunks seeing one tower split into two. It mocks the illusion of depth. Perhaps it's not surprising then that the 70s remake of King Kong had the giant primate straddling the Twin Towers. 

If there was one thing I knew in the 1970s, it was that the World Trade Center was bigger and newer and therefore better than the Empire State Building. And that lenticular photos were a better way of making a photo. 

And that this betterness was impotent. 

Primate visions: it's interesting how, given my new argument about how religion is the phenomenology of biology, we here see a godlike ape straddling the ultimate symbol of American capitalism and big science (Hallelujah, Laurie Anderson). Language, ritual, religion, art--Darwin himself pretty much already argues that we got these from primates before we evolved. Not to mention beetles (art at least, for Darwin anyway). 

King Kong, our primate self, removed from us and yet "owning" in the sense of dominating the two towers--but only in the "New Killer Star" sense of being on top of them. Send him further up and he becomes the wrathful god or Urizen that Blake speaks of. The guy with the beard who mostly wants to kill you. The Church of England calls their leader the Primate of All England. 

Paper wraps stone. King Kong straddles the World Trade Center. 

"I want to be like you." No, we want to be like him, but we already are him, and this being him is (in) the future. The world of King Kong is tantalizing. 

Truly, "world" is being-tantalized. 

"I want to be like you" comes out as "We gotta better way. We're the humans." 

It comes out as planet death. 

Or you could emulate a pop star. 

"George, mate, I gotta better way. Curious George II, consider the 70s: you were fantasizing a lot, I imagine. You were in your 30s, coming into your power. But I WAS the fantasies. And they were about art destroying itself, Jesus, not destroying cities because your enemy destroyed some buildings," said David Bowie, obliquely. 

"I gotta better way, David. Instead of attacking Saudi, we're gonna bomb Iraq. Glam was a better way than rock n roll, same thing, only better. You made me do this," replied George Bush. 

The comic book version of the bible, a better way of selling it. Compressed life. Augmented reality. 

Double vision is when the cognitive system isn't functioning properly, revealing the clunkiness of the two frontal eyes—and hence the unnaturalness of the whole setup. Likewise, the actual music of “New Killer Star” is a sort of double hearing. The wonderfully iterative chord sequence on the guitar, mindlessly chugging up a bit, down a bit, and back again, reinforces the sensation of being locked in a twin groove that is demonic because it isn't chosen and keeps returning. It lurches forward like some artificial monster, relentlessly. The riff is marvelously both rock 'n' roll and glam, as if we were flipping, in lenticular fashion, between 1960 and 1974. 

If rock 'n' roll is “natural” pop music, then glam is surely “artificial”—so there's a both/and logic going on at this level. 

I like how there are twin verses and twin choruses. This twinning is how the song parodies elegy, the genre to which it refers in the lyrics. Elegies do what canned laughter does: they automate an emotion (grief) so that we don't have to undergo its burden. Their nature imagery is strictly sadistic—nature returns (normally it's the spring following winter) unlike the dead person, who remains dead while flowers sprout from his grave. 

In Python's The Meaning of Life, Gilliam's film invades the main film. In "New Killer Star," glam invades rock n roll. The invasion has already started: the "rock n roll" riff, the verse one, is in fact a slightly shifted "Crocodile Rock." Already a kitschy photo. 

And how? Because there is in fact a continuity between glam and rock n roll. A continuity between agrilogistics and capitalism. A continuity between the humans and the horses and the chimneys. 

Bowie's parody delivers a swift one-two punch to grief that weaponizes it. Grief is the only appropriate reaction in an age of ecological catastrophe and spectacular politics (such as 9/11 and its aftermath). "New Killer Star" thus reveals the ideological function of elegy (and boy wasn't that on display on all channels after 9/11?), to steal any semblance of an inner life and slap it together in a nice lenticular image where death is everywhere and nowhere. 

In Moonage Daydream Bowie says how his songs are editorials on the year gone past. This was released in 2003. I can't tell you how curative this is for me, marinated in the 9/11 proto-fascism. The fact that there are twin GOPs, the Cheneys' one where you hate on Trump and the actually explicitly fascist one where the dog whistles are within the range of human hearing, and the fact that I remember, not as an individual but as part of it, like all of us (who but we'd remember), how Cheney and Trump are in a continuum. 

That's the underside of a lencticular photo. It is a photo "about" a continuum. It screams unity through its horrible duality. 

In the video this elegiac parody of elegy (we can't move forwards, we're stuck in a moment) is imaged by staging each lenticular image as a moment in time. It is a lenticular image of lenticular images. So up in the clouds, the flight attendant is forever burning his hand with hot coffee and wincing. The chickadee is always chirping in the dead artificial landscape down below. The Black man is always accidentally driving the spike into the hand of the Chinese American man. 

The railroad was already a cartoon. 

The satellite is always just about to crash to Earth. The plane is always just beginning to shift its course (has it just been hijacked?). 

Ode on a Grecian Urn. 

Another sunny day in neo-pastoral suburbia, whose mindless repetitions exude a sense of imminent threat. A knowing wink that is both stupid and menacing and reassuring. 

The algorithm that acts out "You don't need any rules" is the home computer. 

Home computers and Reagan, followed by Russia and the internet. 

It's not that there's a disaster waiting to happen—of course there is, on my reading—but that there's already a kind of disastrous, bright positivity to everything we see. Surely this is David Lynch's territory, hence perhaps the mechanical-seeming chickadee, an obvious allusion to Blue Velvet with its menacing suburban lawns. 

I am absolutely haunted beyond belief by the drop of water coming from the corner of the overworked air conditioner on the corner of the building where the only genuine difference between the guy starting the lawnmower and smiling / grimacing with pain (apes grin where they're about to attack) and the woman upstairs winking is that she got to America first, and she's upstairs. 

Haunted beyond belief, thirteen years later. 

"I never said I'm better than you." 

Oh but you are, you're Europe, only once more with feeling. Europe, automated, made by Texas Instruments. 

The basic flavor of George Bush's presidential campaign was him comparing himself to Gore, considered a political droid of some kind, by making out like he was a regular American. He never said he was better than you, unlike Al Gore, so he won. 

It's as if we are witnessing a suspended moment in time between two moments. 

George Bush notoriously had trouble pronouncing "nuclear" in a non-childish ("nuke you la") way. One of his teleprompter scripts I recall said "new clear" to make him say it right. New Killer Star. 

"But George," cried Bowie, "If anyone's going to discover the stars, it's me, all right? I discover the stars. I do. Not you." 

I'm thinking now said the blog post, although this was in fact an artifact of the repetition of the blog post. 

This moment is truly impossible—it takes place “between” each guitar riff, each phase of the image, and as we've seen, there is no between. Yet the song appears to insist that there is indeed this utopian (no-place) viewpoint. It's that Matrix or Google Earth point of view (see the previous post on Google Earth art) that visually performs what in poetry is called ekphrasis, the vivid description that suspends time through its loving lingering on exquisite details. The video evidently internalizes Google Earth, giving us a series of multiple lenticular views as if we could assemble them all into a composite image—hey look, there are the twin factory towers in the shot of the girls playing ball...And the video includes a shot of the Earth from space. 

This loving repetition is also, of course, the compulsion to repeat, which seems to get ever stronger in a world of touch-screen rewind controls, which coupled with the sadistic desire to see everything and record it, seems perversely to have reimagined Benjamin's dreaded aura for a contemporary age—what could be more auratic than the cheap lenticular gimmick? Isn't it the case that there are lenticular winking Christs out there? Far from demystifying reality, as Benjamin thought the close-up and other cinematic techniques would do, the desire to see and see again has remystified it in another way. 

When the first plane hit the Tower on 9/11, it wasn't recorded (well, perhaps by a few cameras). When the second plane hit, all the cameras in the world seemed trained on it. Hegel: for an event to occur, it has to occur twice. This “event”-fulness was built into the terrorist action, and the Bush Administration fell for it hook line and sinker. As did the media, who couldn't stop playing and replaying the event as if it were on a loop. The constant repetition became pornographic. 

Like the meaningless shifting back and forth from one lenticular image phase to the other. Back and forth, back and forth, impotently. The lyrics appear to deliberately evoke spectacular events in a recursive way, such as the 60s pop show “Ready, Steady Go” and the more recent “Stars in Their Eyes.” (Other shows are “Face the Music” and “Dateline.”) But of course, this is not an event—it's just an idiotic, horrifying pulsation between two singularities. 

And a one, and a two, and a one, and a two... By excluding any possibility of a human excess behind, within or beyond the relentless, rocking-horse duality of the idiotic rock-n-roll riffage and the lenticularity of the video, this artifact serves a truly politically progressive purpose. It doesn't allow the comforting illusion that there is a “right” or “human” way to bear witness to idiotic violence. In this it's a searing indictment of the Bush Administration, far more so than the Romantic pap that passes for progressive such as Rage Against the Machine or Michael Franti. And by including Nature, in full ideological dress, on “that” side of the imagery (“The sidewalks and trees...” in the lyrics, the view of suburban idylls in the video, the knowing, happy-happy joy-joy imagery of workers in suburbia/countryside, a homage to Stalinist cinema), “New Killer Star” observes correctly that there's nowhere to which to escape, nowhere from which to mount a criticism of current social conditions that is outside of those conditions. 

"Is this menacing" is menacing. 

Phantasms as reality. "There are weapons of mass destruction" is a weapon of mass destruction. 

You discovered the Donald, George. You set it up. The dog whistle. The phallic satellite. The obscene father of enjoyment didn't die. He just turned into energy...You forgot to kill him twice. 

America, you forgot to kill George III. Because of slavery. It wasn't a better way. It was the same way, only more so. 

Nature is as much a part of the perverse enjoyment-factory as the twin towers of the power station exuding polluting smoke within the emerald landscape of the video. I actually love how suburbia and the countryside are also a kind of duality between which the video flips in lenticular fashion, just as Battery Park (mentioned in the lyrics) is a sort of faux utopian urban garden right by the Twin Towers site. That double decker train is surely pulling in to some suburban station, and the power station is there in the hills to send power to the city that is never directly seen yet totally present—as I've argued, we are looking at the scenes in the video from the point of view of the Towers themselves. Suburban nature (and its “wilderness” remix, National Park campsites), can't decide whether it's artificial or natural. We flip like a lenticular photo from artificial nature to natural artifice. We crave those landscaped dry creek beds in front of our houses, and the Parks need trash cans and toilets. 

Lord of the Rings, if it's any good, is about giving suburban bigots a kick in the pants. The Hobbits are being schooled. Or it's about the fight to preserve xenophobic bigotry. 

Why did we have President Bush when we could've had President Bowie?

"But I was the president," said Bowie, "In that scary way as well." 

Phantasms as reality. Watching a pop video. 

The way glam singing can sound like pleading. The way falsetto is reached through a kind of yodel that can easily be heard as pleading in a state of pain and extreme anxiety. This is how the bridge between verse and chorus sounds. All the corners of the buildings...who but we'd remember these? The sidewalks and trees...The descent into the underworld begins with "I'm thinking now..." What are you thinking? Why, the swaggering certainty of discovering the stars in the most profound sense of becoming them. 

Bush II, a new killer star. It's so obvious. Hiding in plain sight. Star as a killer. 

"Paradise is exactly like / Where you are right now / Only much, much better" (Laurie Anderson). 

Suburban nature in a sense is more natural than natural—hyperbolically lush and carefully managed, nowadays without too many pesticides and herbicides (if you're being ethical). 

Google is the computational version of the Neoplatonic God's omniscience, omnipresence and omnipotence. 

That initial chickadee is just right—it's just a little bit more than natural, so it slips into being super-natural. 

And it's English. A blue tit, in fact. England as the supernatural ghost in the American machine. The noise the software makes. The possibility of George III, the real corona virus, is the lenticular photo consisting of one, American Constitution and two, slavery artifacts baked into every aspect of social life. Slavery but done in a sincere, Sam the American Eagle way. Just not mentioning it much while condoning it at the very least by acquiescing to the status quo has been a convenient algorithmic compression of doing that. Luckily the not mentioning and the acquiescing are made of the same thing. The silence of an automated process. It is no longer speaking. It is speaking as acting-out. Speaking as doing violence upon the real. To make a point. To teach them a lesson. "The silent majority." 

Speak and Spell. And counterspell. The blissful machinic churning of the chorus riff, not to mention the verse. There's jerking off and there's jerking off. 

Parsifal, the criminal moron savior. Jesus loves you anyway. No matter how intense the churning, you're soothed by his blood. 

Supernatural, like 30% extra natural...

And those two girls throwing the ball across the pool—twin towers of suburban beauty—locked forever in their meaningless display of sculpted body tissue. The video shows us a complete “world” with factories, trains, gardens, and hills, and houses, planes, satellites—a picture postcard of modern life. 

I've gotta better way. It's called communism. Or is it better to say that it's not a better way, that bettering is the problem and communism is the solution...

The way postmodern pastiche has a menacing and highly ecological doppelgänger encoded within it like factory chimneys in a kitschy photo or like the other image in the technology of lenticular photographs. 

I told a lie. There are in-between steps. Yet these are also steps, like steps in a recipe. An algorithm is a recipe. When you automate Europe. Then you automate slavery: primitive accumulation, colonialism and coal give way to steam engines and coal and wage slavery, plus actual slavery still, including nonhumans constantly giving away their labor for free. 

Horribly violent in-between steps, to create the illusion of continuity. 

The steps comment on the violence of creating an illusion. That this is natural, only much, much better. Sparkly natural. Glam nature. Suburbia. 

The illusion of continuity, and the sadistic delight in the clunkiness of the illusion. Sadistic at least insofar as the World Trade Center, capitalism, the hands holding the lenticular photo, the big tech weaponry from space in the form of falling junk, let alone actual missiles, the way teleology cradles the world in its long arms (Laurie Anderson). The way the format of the video and the song cradles its content, whether seen as good or taken as bad. 

The way the negative and positive readings of this song stack onto each other so perfectly. 

A demonic lounge lizard version of "Subterranean Homesick Blues" where we are Ginsberg holding the signs, only they are the string of lenticular images, and what we are holding is the physical surface on which meaning is inscribed. It's the signs themselves, stupid. 

The way a regular rhythm can become a demonic wail of excitement. 

The violence of imposing a stepwise illusion of continuity on a continuum, and then justifying this imposition by saying it's an upgrade. Both of those things. 

You sell your labor on the cheap, unlike the other products on "the market." That way the owner can make a huge profit. The illusion of continuity in the form of an invisible hand. Don't worry, your actual hand will feel better, and you have to serve that coffee anyway, else you're fired. 

The song, which is in part a dramatic monologue sung by George Bush, and the video, are both coherent "worlds." Yet it successfully conveys that this world is simultaneously totally nonexistent and horrifyingly hyper-real. It's not a perfect world—the hammer falls on the poor coworker's hand and the flight attendant spills the coffee. That image of the flexing hand—is it an allusion to Laurie Anderson's video for “O Superman” (“This is the hand—the hand that takes...Here come the planes, / They're American planes, made in America—Smoking or Non-Smoking?”) (Anderson performed that in NYC one week after 9/11. Wow.)  

Proletarian clumsiness, or being hurt by one's tools, which are an extension, literally, of the Man? These moments in the video seem to comment on the lenticular form itself and on the social system we're still in, the one that is now munching down the trees on that sidewalk. 

Is the guy yanking the lever atop the pole a deliberate Peter Gabriel "Big Time" era lookalike? 

Who but we? If you're not working in or visiting the World Trade Center--if you don't have time off or a job in that building--you're going to see it as corners. Gigantic corners. I remember. When I lived in Manhattan for two years, that was what it was. Actual experience. It's just an accident. It's not better or worse. The treasure, the ordinariness. It's not glam sparkling like the chorus, it's just sidewalks and trees and corners, seemingly unadorned by tropology. Not "flowery" or ornamental. A trope is a flower, hence "anthology," a collection of flowers. A trope is an algorithm and quite accurately, a flower is the plot of an algorithm. 

Oh but the memory does glam sparkle. All memories are fake. And true. Sentience itself is based on memory. AI should be taught how to forget. 

This is the part where Bowie executes George Bush by executing the Bush Fantasy Algorithm. 

Where you can imagine the song outlining a glam ecological revolution mode. 

George Bush is singing, or Bowie. It's lenticular. Let's face the music and dance, let's talk about our pop career, let's find a better way than Syd Barrett while never saying we're better than Syd Barrett. 

Of course the beauty of lenticular photos is that they don't seem to “work” properly—in an age of digital animation we can smile at these clunky kitschy products. But in another way the photos don't lie—there is no point that is magically in between different moments. Any movement can be broken up into a sequence of still images, so in a sense there is no movement as such (Zeno). We only observe things happening retroactively. 

Reality is lenticular. Quantum theory says so. There is no neutral, transparent energy. There is only pink energy and green energy and violent energy and...

Mechanical motion, for instance oscillating a lenticular photo back and forth, left to right, destroys the quantum coherence. But what if this was just the inevitably last thing you know about a thing? You see it vibrating, then off it goes. The failure of failure. Oscillation as such is primordially how things are still and moving at the same time. That's what frequency and duration imply. 

That's what size implies. 

Life is a true statement about a quantum universe. Persisting is a kind of failure. 

Thus the song and the video appear to swing on a clumsy hinge between past and future, wanking time (for want of a better phrase) back and forth like a DJ trying to beat match. And failing. 

Of course the DJ is revolution, and revolution is trying to find a point in the groove at which to insert a whole new tune. But that point never arrives, so the DJ keeps sliding the needle to different points on the disc, only to rediscover the same thing. 

There is no exit from this bright non-place, this horrible utopia. 

So all lenticular photos are obviously staged for a camera, like 9/11. You'd have to set up the shot of the falling hammer. Failure is successfully staged as a kind of obscene comedy. 

The wincing workers, caught in their pain like cartoon characters we can sadistically watch being hurt over and over again.

So there is an uncanny sense that what we are seeing has been predicted and preprogrammed. That what we are witnessing is a prefabricated event, seen from an impossible point of view—Ground Zero. 

The revolutionizing of prefabrication. 

There's more to say, but I'm so excited I'm going to "update" now and add later. 

Tuesday, November 8, 2022