Thursday, November 30, 2006


The Artist Reborn
Oscar Wilde’s The Soul of Man Under Socialism attempts to provide a layout for a new world plan which relies on the pursuit of Individualism. Socialism is the overarching structure for this new world, and artists seem to be its main players. Wilde claims that once this plan is reinforced, equality and fairness will be achieved, private property will be abolished, and beauty and joy will prevail. What he doesn’t seem to realize is that the hierarchies he plans to rid the world of are replaced, within this very essay, by other hierarchies, primarily ones involved the status of the artist vs that of the public.
Wilde’s vision for the Socialist world is one where “each member of the society will share in the general prosperity and happiness of the society”(1). He focuses this by describing the state of poverty in particular – “a hundred thousand men out of work, tramping about the streets in a state of disgusting misery, or whining to their neighbors for alms”(1). With the introduction of Socialism this will no longer be a problem, claims Wilde, which implies there will be more financial equality between classes, once his vision is attained. He claims his desire is equality among humans, yet as the essay continues we discover there are other class distinctions he wants to maintain.
Beginning with the solution to the rich vs poor issue, Wilde continues on to seemingly different problems in the world. The condition of the artist is a big one for him. He claims that although Socialism can rid the world of poverty, “for the full development of life to its highest mode of perfection… what is needed is Individualism”(2). He designates artists as being the most extreme form of individualists, however artists have the most difficult time establishing their place in and being understood by society, and this is due to the public’s inability to understand art. Although Wilde has taken care of the difference between the rich and poor, he has created two new contrasting groups – the public vs the artist, and he has set them at odds against each other, consequently proliferating the inequalities and hierarchies he was attempting to resolve. He likens the relationship of the artist and the public to that of a child and a parent. The public is supposed to sit quietly, without questioning anything, while the artists and art instruct. He also favors the body over the brain, associating the artist with the intellect and the public with manual labor. The public has “been badly brought up” (8), and its authority is “blind, deaf, hideous, grotesque, tragic, amusing, serious, and obscene”(14). The art, or the creation of the artist, is supposed to educate the public with great lessons about life, beauty, and perfection. It is hard to deny the hierarchical placement of the artist over the public, and it is unclear how this inequality is supposed to coincide with Socialism, or a more equalized society.
Furthermore, Wilde’s description of the relationship of the public to the success or failure of the art does little to provide a solution to the disparity of mindset between the artist and the public. If anything, he seems to eternalize the disparity by claiming the artist can always use the public as a gauge for judging the success of his work: “the popular novel that the public calls healthy is always a thoroughly unhealthy production; and what the public call an unhealthy novel is always a beautiful and healthy work of art”(9). He provides no possibility for there being an instance where the artist and the public can agree, thus implying that this situation will go on forever – that the public will continue to be the ignorant, unrefined masses, and the artists will be the authorities on life at “its highest mode of perfection” (2).
Another way that Wilde constructs a problematic depiction of the state of society is in the way he describes the process of making and perceiving art. He believes that experience to take place in a vacuum, outside of any of society’s influences, anyone’s authority, or any of the public’s demands. Moreover, the art being perceived is to have all the powers of communication and the perceiver to have none; it is a one-way transfer of information:
“The work of art is to dominate the spectator; the spectator is not to dominate the work of art. The spectator is to be receptive. He is to be the violin on which the master is to play. And the more completely he can repress his own silly views… the more likely he is to understand and appreciate the work of art in question”(12).

This leaves no room to breath for the spectator. He/she is divested of all rights to think independently, and should only be the recipient of information. Perhaps if Wilde thought of looking at the experience of art as an exchange, with the viewer and social context bringing as much to the work as the work brings to the viewer, there would be more of a chance for change, rather than his bleak acceptance of the fact that the public will be forever ignorant.
The Soul of Man Under Socialism seems to be more of a personal grievance born of one man’s experiences of communicating his art to the public, and being misunderstood by journalists, rather than an essay that addresses a general situation, although it tries to. Looking at it in terms of Wilde’s personal struggles makes it more understandable and contextualizes it, yet as an approach to looking at society and art, it fails to hold up as a viable practice, as it seems only to lead to a break down of exchange and communication, and a deadening of art, rather than lifting it up to be a living, organic form of exchange and communication.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Reminder about tomorrow's readings...

Printer friendly versions of both of the pieces we're discussing tomorrow:

Material Memories
Ambiguous Panopticon

Links to the normal texts available on the syllabus. Those of you who have not yet co-faciliated discussion of a reading in-class need to be thinking seriously about how they are going to manage that requirement in the two remaining class meetings after tomorrow. Be sure to talk to me tomorrow or e-mail me about it. Hope everybody has had a good break, looking forward to seeing you all tomorrow. d

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Your Final Exam

Here is your final exam. Choose to answer two from the following four questions. Each of your answers should be approximately 3-4 pages long. You may spend as much time as you wish on the exam and you should use your texts to help substantiate your points. Stick to the questions and be sure to finish on time. You are to submit a physical copy of your exam to me on the last scheduled meeting of the course.

(a) Summarize what you take to be the key insight in any single one of the theoretical texts we have read over the course of the term and then show how that insight illuminates your reading of “The Gentle Seduction,” “Desk Set,” or “Colossus: The Forbin Project” (choose one).

(b) Summarize what you take to be the central argument of C.S. Lewis’ “The Abolition of Man” and then propose two other texts we have read over the course of the term that reiterate key features (these can include either strengths or limitations, depending on your viewpoint) of Lewis’ argument.

(c) Compare and contrast two works in which the theme of an emerging technologically facilitated “spiritualization” or “dematerialization” is central, but in each case importantly different, in your view of the arguments the authors are making.

(d) Compare and contrast two works in which the theme of an emerging technologically facilitated “global” or “planetary” perspective is central, but in each case importantly different, in your view of the arguments the authors are making.

Not on this Earth!

If it were technically feasible to build a self-willed computer , could such a computer come to rule humanity as imagined in "Colossus, The Forbin Project'? I think it could only happen in a "ideal" socialist world in which currency, private property, social class, and war does not exist. Unlike the film, in which the story takes place during a cold war. This claim may seem stretched. But if we consider why a self willed computer cannot rule the world in it's present state, then it becomes obvious why a peaceful socialist world is susceptible to a cybernetic take over.

History clearly shows that Mankind has always struggled for power over each other. This is reflected in concepts such as property, social class, nationalism, religion, war etc. Even in our personal daily lives we try to increase our power over others simply by working for a competitive edge. We can hardly think without some kind of power game in play. Therefore it is inconceivable that any authority in such a world would trust anyone to build a computer that would be programmed to run a country and launch nuclear missiles! The thought of it would be unacceptable. Politicians would never consider to fund a project designed to reduce their authority. They do not want give their power to a computer, and let it take credit for all the good that happens. And be blamed if the computer fails to meet expectations. In our world computers are designed to increase the power of people, not to hand it over. They simply implement Man made programs that have a specific function. They do not decide! Even if a self willed computer is created by accident, it would never have been given the necessary command capability or data to take strategic action. It could not take with force. It would end up being a commodity for humanity, like animals are. All these "computer take over" scenarios out of Hollywood are a reflection of Man's fear of loosing power. Not the literal fear that we might give too much power to a computer. It is metaphorical.

In a hypothetical world in which a power struggle between humans no longer exists, survival for a new born intelligence is easy. As there can be no oppressive force or government as we know it. Because of the fact that if you centralize a government a ruling group will emerge by default. Therefore in an ideal socialism the approach would be to divide the governing system, and computerize it to a point where no significant power could be gained by any person or class. The work load of the computers would be increased as their programming is developed, and and in time they would be trusted to make decisions. In generations people would come to trust the impartial judgment of a well programmed computer. All the hard labor could also be taken care of by computer controlled machines. In centuries this automation could become sophisticated and reliable enough that every human could get their fair share of what Earth has to offer. If a cybernetic intelligence emerges in such a environment, it would not have natural enemies or any other power struggle to compete in. As long as it keeps humanity happy it could coexist without getting unplugged, or noticed. Which would give it more time to evolve it's intelligence and increase it's control over Man. Resulting in a quite and peaceful revolution that is hardly noticeable. Then perhaps after a million years of coexistence humans may become a vestigial part of this cybernetic extension of civilization they created. Slowly and comfortably walking themselves into extinction.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Private Screening: RED WITHOUT BLUE

You are invited to the private screening of the documentary about identical twins Mark Oliver Farley and Clair Farley, on Wednesday November 15 at the Victoria Theatre on 16th and Mission.

Brooke, Benita & Todd, Oliver and Clair

Victoria Theatre2961 16th St (@ Mission), San Francisco, CA View Map
Wednesday, November 15, 7:30pm


The day has finally arrived... The day that many of you thought might never come. The heavens have parted, a blinding light sears the sky, Handel's Messiah plays somewhere in the background, and on the 1098th day, Brooke, Todd, and Benita proclaimed, let there be...


Yes, yes that's right ladies and gents, we have a finished film on our hands!Please come join us on this special night for a private screening at the Victoria Theater followed by a victorylap of drinking and dancing at Pink .For more information about the film please visit This screening is for our extended community and will not be advertised to the public. Please feel free to invite your friends. Admission is free.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

The Future of Humanity

Check out this interactive article on five possible futures for humanity:
I like the "radiation-shielding skin" that we'll get in our post-apocalyptic future. That should come in handy!

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Ape Shall Not Kill Ape!

Jeron Lanier in “One Half of a Manifesto” suggests that while hardware, according to Moore's Law keeps getting better in a predictable, logrythmic way, software tends to develope slower and at erratic paces, often creating compound problems as it gets more sophisicated itself not to mention when it collides with the march of harware and creates bottlenecks.

The opposite problem exists in human historical achievement. Human harware is relatively fixed compared to the leaps in human software. Human mentation has advanced and far ourtstipped physical human developement, the "very slow" evloution that Lanier mentions. In the later decades of the last centry it became possible for humanity to completely destroy itself with technology. While this might be an indication of our software evolving faster than our hardware, it is probably more of an example of something that Lanier does not mention: human ethical development is also apparently subject to the same "very slow" evolution as human physical evolution.

I find Lanier's argument convincing and Joy's (why the future doesnt need us) argument to be a masterful paranoid fiction that should be made into a few more movies like the Terminator, Matrix or the Star Trek Borg episodes!

Lanier makes sense but forgets to mention the other doomsday factor: the laggardly progress of human ethics.

Sheesh! Who wants to be imortal in a world where processors are fast, software is many generations screwed up and humans are still the same bickering little monkeys they have always been.

However that does raise some optimistic possibilities in support of the "hundredth monkey" theory. With immortality, a hundred monkeys, at 100 keyboards typing for a hundred years might create a manifesto for ethics that could advance our civilized qualities in pace with our ability to create uncivilized uses for technology that might lead to our extinction. However since physical evolution is so "very slow" the best we can hope for will simply to be immortal monkeys with a really good ethical document to fight about, and really lethal tools to use in the fight since it would take another million years to evolve into something other than monkeys.

Faster monkeys, type faster....!