martes, 4 de noviembre de 2008

Predicting the Web (V) - Conclusion

These texts previously analyzed seem to be very different in principle: they come from different authors, different countries, different theorical disciplines (engineering, philosophy, literature). But when we get to analyze them, we find COMMON IDEAS:

- their main purpose is to achieve a metacoprehension of human world

- they become a challenge to common and assumed ideas from the Enlightenment, such as: the romantic idea of the author, closed and hierarchical structures, linear-based reading and writing...

- they predict many of the ideas in which the Internet and the WWW is actually based on when it was conceived by the beginnings of the 1990s.

That's why I think these texts are important. They seem to be apart in terms of history, but they are close in terms of content. They actually refer to technologies we use everyday.

- the web has a rhizomatic structure: it is very easy to get lost and to find information of any kind, but we can enjoy the multiples paths we may follow to get it. The structure may be chaotic, but: when we search for information, we can broke the rhizome at anytime, and the hyperlinks provide connection and heterogeneity to the information.

- in order to acummulate and reduce the space of Knowledge, Wikipedia might be considered the most similar type of enclyclopedia as Bush's original project (with some differences).

- we may think about the Internet and the web as Borges conceived his maze: while we surf the Web, we have to think in terms of “temporary forking” rather than “spatial movement”. The Internet is everywhere and it's nowhere at the same time.

Predicting the Web (IV) - The Rhizome

The Rhizome is a text is written by french philosophers Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, as a part of their Capitalism and Schizophrenia project, which they developed durting the 1970s. The text I'm analyzing is not the whole text, but only a 7 pages extract where they summarize the main principles of the rhizome. In comparison with the other two, this text have a philosophical perspective (they take the concept of RHIZOME from the biology, and apply it to develope a philosophical construction).

The authors used the term "rhizome" to describe a kind of theory and research that allows for multiple, non-hierarchical entry and exit points in data representation and interpretation. They make an opposition between:
- an arborescent model of knowledge: that makes vertical and linear connections
- a rhizome model of knowledge: works with horizontal and trans-species connections And then, they ennumerate the following principles of the rhizome:

Connection and heterogeneity: any point of a rhizome can be connected to anything other, and must be. So the most important thing in a rhizome is that everything has to be connected (semiotic chains, organizations of power, and circumstances relative to the arts, sciences, and social struggles). And on the other hand, we don't have an ideal listener-speaker, nor a universal language: a rhizome always reflects "an essentially heterogeneous reality".

Multiplicity: In a rhizome we don't have a unity to serve as a pivot in an object or to divide in the subject. There are no objects and subjects, only determinations, magnitudes and dimensions that increase in number and change in nature at the same time.

Asignfying rupture: A rhizome may be broken anytime and it will start up again on one of its old lines, or on new lines. And these lines always tie back to one another. “It is detachable, reversible, susceptible to constant modification. It can be torn, reversed, adapted to any kind of mounting, reworked by an individual, group or social formation.

Cartography: a rhizome does not have any structural or generative model. They describe the rhizome like an open and connectable map in all of its dimensions: “a rhizome is not amenable to any structural or generative model. It is a stranger to any idea of genetic axis or deep structure”.

Predicting the Web (III) - The Garden of Forking Paths

This text was written in 1941 by Argentinian writer and poet Jorge Luis Borges. It was an orginally Spanish short story, that he included in a short-stories collection entitled “Fictions”. We find a different approach with this text because it's literature, and I think it's quite to see how we can relate this text to the other one.

Just to briefly summarize the plot of the story, the protagonist is Dr. Yu Tsun, a chinese spy working for the Germans during World War II. He's been discovered and is being pursued. Through the narration, we find out Yu Tsun is Ts'ui Pen great-grandson, a great smart man who renounced his job as governor of a province to undertake two tasks: “to write a vast and intricate novel, and to construct an equally vast and intricate labyrinth”. The protagonist goes to Dr Albert house, who explains excitedly that at one stroke he has solved THE MYSTERY: the chaotic and jumbled nature of Ts'ui Pen's unfinished book, and the mystery of his lost labyrinth. Albert's solution is that they are one and the same: we all first think that book and labyrinth were different things, but the truth is that the book is the labyrinth.

So here we have the text's metaphor: the same way we have to choose among several possibilities when we find ourselves in the middle of a maze, we also have this ability to choose when we read a book.

In all fictional works, each time a man is confronted with several alternatives, he chooses one and eliminates the others; in the fiction of Ts'ui Pên, he chooses -simultaneously- all of them. He creates, in this way, diverse futures, diverse times which themselves also proliferate and fork”

How can we think that may be possible? Well, the answer is that the forking took place in time, and not in space.

In contrast to Newton and Schopenhauer, your ancestor did not believe in a uniform, absolute time. He believed in an infinite series of times, in a growing, dizzying net of divergent, convergent and parallel times. This network of times which approached one another, forked, broke off, or were unaware of one another for centuries, embraces all possibilities of time”

We finally find out that the main purpose of the novel was to describe a world where all possible outcomes of an event occur at the same time, each one itself leading to further possibilities (using the metaphor of the forking paths in a maze).

Here we have a metalinguistics narration, as long as it is a novel that talks about a novel (we find a mixture of 2 stories in one); the novel itself has the same chaotic structure that labyrinths actually have; and the maze is a metaphor to mean the idea of choice and simultaneous possibilities. Through the links between the different paths we can create as much interpretations as we want.

I think the importance of this text lie in 2 main reasons:

- this text is considered a conceptual precedent of the hyperfiction stories: the stories that combine hypertext and literature, and play with the ideas of chocie, multiple paths, different meanings, no beginning and no ending...

- french philosopher Gilles Deleuze takes this story to develop the concept of RHIZOME

Predicting the Web (II) - As We May Think

The profound technological and engineering perspective this text has is remarkable in as long as science administrator Vannevar Bush, wanted to provoke a shift in scientific efforts from physical abilities regarding science information to more accessible collection of human knowledge (using the technology available at that time). The date of firs publication is important, since we have to situate this text in the last months of World War II.

The whole text is devoted to explain how this change may be possible, and thus summarizes his ideas with the development of his own system: the MEMEX (an acronym for Memory Extender). It was basically an electromechanical device that could be used to read, search for and add information, as well as to follow links/notes that the user (and others) may possibly produce. In other words, he was proposing a proto-hypertext computer system.

In his visionary project, the ability to connect, annotate and share published works and personal trails would change the process by which the “world's record” is created and used. That makes us to come back to the idea of accessing and retrieving information (Bush found this idea very important, since the main problem in our “information society” is not so much the quantity/quality of information and knowledge as the access to this information. He argues that we can literally get lost in a bunch of information in case of, for instance, scientific research. Therefore, his Memex proposal should allow an easy and more comfortable access to and retrieve of the information.

In addition to that, Bush though the Memex should work through an association of ideas. Whereas data storage in alphabetical/numercial order assumes the information to be in only one place and forces the searcher to follow a track operating through class and subclass (the best example of that is a regular library), the Memex system should work through an association of ideas. “Our mind jumps instantly to the information below. This jump is suggested by an association of ideas, followeing some intricate web of roads formed by cells in the brain”, Bush notes. That way Memex would emulate human brains operating forms.

Just to make all this a bit more concrete, this is how his prototypical Memex should look like. Although it looks really old-fashioned and kind of non-operative for our current standards, that didn't really matter because this project was never eventually executed as the whole investigation falled apart.

Why is this text so important? I think the time when it was written makes it really visionary. The author predicted many kinds of technology invented after the publication of the text (such as Hypertext, the Personal Computer, the Internet or the WWW). To show you an example of that, I think this definition (quoted from the text):
“The Enclyclopedia Britannica could be reduced to the volume of a matchbox. A library of a million volumes could be compressed into one end of a desk".
could be a good definition of what Wikipedia is right know (some differences may be acknowledged).

Anyways, the main contributions of this text are remarkable:

- terms and notions that after became popular: link, connection, web
- a change in our reading and writing order, as well as appearance of the WREADER category (mixture of writer and reader)
- intuiton of virtual textuality (the information did not need to be stored in paper)
- information stored in path-based systems

Predicting the Web (I)

AS WE MAY THINK (by American engineer VANNEVAR BUSH)

THE GARDEN OF FORKING PATHS (by Argentinian writer and poet JORGE LUIS BORGES)

THE RHIZOME (by french philosophers DELEUZE & GUATTARI)

Although these three texts seem to be very different and talk about different ideas, from different perspectives, they actually have many things in common. They all have contributed in many aspects to build what The Internet and the World Wide Web is right now. Moreover, I personally find they have also had a significant influence in the connection between Arts and Technology.

In the next following posts, I'm going to analyze each text separately so we can extract some final conclusions.

viernes, 31 de octubre de 2008

SURREALIST cinema; Un chien Andalou

I've been surfing the Internet these past days, looking for ideas for the PHASE 2 project. Working with video it's much more fun (html is ok, but well... it's not the same! :P) and I personally want to be creative. I'm a bit lost and need to define what I want to express, but I'm considering the exploration of two different areas: surrealist cinema and Panopticon theory.

I would like to use some images from the surrealist film Un Perro Andaluz, by spanish director Luis Buñuel. The film has no narrative, in the conventional sense of the word. The chronology of the film is disjointed, jumping from the initial "once upon a time" to "eight years later" without the events or characters changing that much. It uses dream logic that can be described in terms of then-popular freudian free association, presenting a series of tenuously related scenes that attempt to shock the viewer's inner psyche.

And I also would like to relate those ideas to the panopticon concept. In its origins, the Panopticon was a type of prison building designed by English philosopher Jeremy Bentham in 1785. The concept of the design is to allow an observer to observe (-opticon) all (pan-) prisoners without the prisoners being able to tell whether they are being watched, thereby conveying what one architect has called the "sentiment of an invisible omniscense".

I still have to work on these ideas, because I'm not sure if they're gonna fit well in order to produce a video with a little bit of sense. I link here some inspiring links:


I have already started to prepare my presentation for (if the strike doesn't change my plans) next wednesday. Basically, I'm going to talk about these 3 texts I've linked above. I'm still in the process (haven't read the The Rhizome text yet), and have to think which aspects I'm going to focuse on. I'm thinking about talking about the content and context of those texts, and making a comparison between them. They have very obvious connections that I really have to mention and explain, but they are quite different at the same time, because their authors come from different fields, are referring to different aspects and, in fact, the texts per se respond to a different genre.

I'm really amazed about these texts, and I'm quite sure I will focuse on these 3 aspects:

- the importance of these texts lie in the age at which they were written. One may be surprised to find out how many years ago they were written, and how visionary the ideas contained are. They are really pioneer texts regarding a conceptual approach to the links between information and technology.
- because they come from different fields of knowledge, they consider "the same idea" from a different perspective. These ideas relate to other ideas that have been developed afterwards during the XX century.
- they have had enormous influence in other areas of artistic and intellectual expression, such as the literature (hyperfiction), the mass media (the Internet), the academic research (the death of the author)...

I can't really talk more about my presentation, because I'm still in the process. I show you one of the drawings I'll probably show you in class. The Exquisite Corpse is so hilarious, isn't it?

Free Internet? Two more notes.-

This is a very interesting topic Jason chose for his class presentation last week. I think he summarized really well the problems adressed by the issue of the “fredom” regarding the Internet as a new way of communication and artistic expression. Although his presentation focused on the dangers of a potential “pay-per-use” Internet and the need of a “real free” Internet, I would like to talk about now about 2 other aspects that I find directly related to the “freedom” problem in the Internet. I'm referring to the progressive and alarming invasion on the user's privacy rights and the widening gap between rich and poor societies in the field of information technology.

I'm really worried about those “social networks” like Facebook or Myspace. Identity fraud, uncontrolled expansion of personal data or the possibility that companies spy their potential employees are some of the risks a lot of Facebook, Myspace or Hi5 users unconciously assume. For those who are not very familiar with these sites, they actually acummulate a bunch of personal and private data. An average user's profile includes name, date of birth, city, apart from photos and other stuff. Others give information about their religion, marital status, personal videos... The amount of information they have collected has alarmed a lot of official authorities in more than 30 countries all over the world, which have dealed with this problematic issue in the recent 30th International Conference of Data Protection and Privacy.

Moreover, I am also concerned about the need to create mechanisms for multilateral and democratic management of the Internet. This management is mainly controled by the North American, european and some Asian countries, and the income generated by those flows of communication is only in rich countries' hands. Such imbalances do nothing more than widen the gap between rich and poor in the field of information technology.

I don't want to prolong this post too much (as I understand it doesn't really deal with art and technology) but I just would like to note that “diversity” is another important matter. The vast majority of the web content is in English, and people whose languages do not use the Latin alphabet face enormous difficulties in obtaining their full inclusion in the network.

miércoles, 22 de octubre de 2008

"To be percieved spatially and temporally...

... a structure appears "closed"
when it is experienced as integral:

coherent, comprehensive and stable"
[George Landow]

That is the main purpose of my project: the viewer exploring the pages and finding an integral structure (through the links, the associations, the pieces of hyperfictions, the quotes, the colors...). I think that is the main idea that actually summarizes the sense of my project. Only once the viewer has considered every quote and has understood its meaning, he would understand the meaning of the whole structure. Of course, (as it happens in hyperfictions) there is no just one strict and closed meaning, but just as many as the viewer may consider through his/her own interpretation.

This "trip" that I proposed starts with the Choose your own Adventure book series Manifesto:

Choose Your Own Adventure is a series of children's in which each story is written from a second person point of view, with the reader assuming the role of the protagonist and making choices that determine the main character's actions in response to the plot and its outcome. I thought that idea would be interesting as the starting point of the project (the idea of "choice"). Once the reader clicks on the world "choice", two different frames are displayed on the screen:

This part is very important, because as the viewer reads the 3 quotations, will have to chose which is the "path" that will follow afterwards. I've also played with the "black" and "white" common connotations. If the viewer chooses to follow the "white" path, the one about the "hypertext" theory (the one potentially pro-hyperfiction), the frames will display like this:

On the contrary, if the viewer choses the other path, he/she will encounter this:

The four different quotations the viewer will see are about different approaches to the hypertext/hyperfiction theory and consider the issue of authorship in the "digital" era. They divide into 4 frames as well, like this:

I personally think this last step in the project is the most interesting one, since the viewer will not understand the meaning and sense of the quotations unless he/she reads all the pairs (that would mean both paths have been considered at the same time, but the eight quotations will be neverdisplayed together on screen).

Explore the external links, create different meanings and enjoy the adventure!!! Remember, there are a lot of possibilities, a lot of choices...


We'll my hyperfiction project is already done. And today we all have had to present our projects (or part of the projects) in class. I think I'm going to talk a bit more about it before the end of this phase 1. To begin with, I'm posting my "reference page" because it is useful to clarify some things about my project. The viewer may understand the structure of my page and where I did find the quotations.

The quotations I have collected for this project come from a variety of sources. Some of them were originally in Spanish, so I tried to make an accurate translation. I have divided the quotations into 3 groups. In the first group we have "general quotations" about the hypertext theory and reflections about the idea of author.
  • The first quote "The are a lot of possibilities: some elections are simple, others sensible...", is taken from the Choose your own Adventure Book Series Manifesto. The one I used is a translation from the spanish available here.

  • The second quote "I mean a non-sequential writing, a text that forks..." is a Theodor Nelson's quote from his book Literay Machines. It is available here.

  • The third one "Holding a fact or an idea our mind jumps..." comes from pioneer text As we may think, by engineer Vannevar Bush. He was trying to make a justification for his theoretical proto-hypertext computer system, Memex. The quote is available here.

  • The fourth quote "The author still prevails in literature books, in biographies..." is taken from the essay The death of the author, by french writer Roland Barthes. Available here.

In the second group, we have another 4 quotes, which have been reached through the previous ones. These are much more specific and delimit two different approaches to the hyperfiction literature theory.

  • The quote "Multiplicities are rhizomatic, and expose arborescent..." comes from the text The Rhizome, by Deleuze/Guattari and available here.

  • The quote "Perhaps the true paradigmatic work of the era offers the patient reader..." is a Robert Coover's reflection quoted in the book Patchwork Girl review, by Shelley Jackson. Available here.

  • The quote "Most of the time, literary criticism still asserts..." has also been taken from the Roland's Barthes essay, mentioned above.

  • The last quote of this group, "the narration (...) runs the risk of..." is an extract of the text Las posibilidades de la narrativa hipertextual, by Spanish theoric Susana Pajares Tosca. She quotes Coover in her text to refer the risks of hyperfiction literature.

Finally, in the last group of quotes, I've tried to mix eight different really quotes but extracts of archetypical hyperfictions or literay precedents. They are related to each other by pairs of two (that is something the viewer has to find out him/herself through the links).

  • The first group is formed by the pair "We have been seeing each other..." and "Oh, I should explain. We have code words...". These are two extracts from mythical hyperfiction Lies, by Rick Pryll and available here.

  • The second group about Ts'ui Pên's labyrinth is two extracts from hyperfiction precedent The garden of forking paths, by hispanic writer Jorge Luis Borges. It is available here.

  • The pair of quotes "Ultimately, every node, every piece of text.." and "Ignore people who have specific prescriptions..." are two contradictory quotes extracted from the Susana Pajares' text, mentioned above.

  • In the same way, the last two quotes "Deep down, hyperfictions are not so different..." and "One of the reasons why it makes sense to include hyperlinks..." are a contradiction I've linked between the Susana Pajares' text and a piece from the Yo, el ornitorrinco weblog.
I'm having problems with the FTP to upload the project to the FACS server. I don't know what's happening, maybe some of the ftp settings are wrong. I'll figure it out!

domingo, 19 de octubre de 2008


I haven't posted too much lately, but the truth is that I've been working hard for my project. I have it already finished, and I only have to fix some little things to have it done!!! I'm pretty proud of what I've finally achieved, although I don't know if it will really gather everything Nadine and Marc were asking for this phase. Whatever.

Maybe tomorrow or Tuesday I will post more details about my final project. I've spent so much hours in front of the computer and am so tired that I cannot write anything else now!!!!

martes, 14 de octubre de 2008

Hypertext: Transfiguration of Writing and The Writer

I've found this interesting video about how writing in the hypertext format influences the usually called "common" writing style.

jueves, 9 de octubre de 2008

A bit more about my idea...

I know that I've not been posting a lot about my idea for phase 1. The truth is that I still need to think more and clarify some things. I need more quotes, and some of the ones I collected at the beginning might not appear in the final project. I'm not sure yet. I have a more clear idea of the web's structure and, more or less, I'll do the following.

A structure dividing the screen in successive frames (which simulates a complex web, as the hypertext literature does in relation to the reader). This structure helps to reinforce my belief that the reader can decide their own adventure, your own path, and that the choice of a path in principle implies the renunciation of other possibilities.

The use of colors will also help this idea of the user chosing between 2 opposing views. I thought white/black/gray is the more appropriate chromatic scale, so I avoid to use too much garish colors.

I definetely need more quotes! Aaarg, and most of them are in Spanish, so it's double work having to translate them. But I guess I will have investigated enough for the next week to come up with all this. My first intention was to use images to illustrate my quotes, as well as a background image. But in the end images are not allowed for this phase, so I'll have some things to rearrange some things.

As Nadine told me in our "one on one" discussion, I'll have to try to relate my project a little bit more with the idea of "interface" and "intermediation". And yet I do not know how... I guess I could find quotes making explicit reference to these concepts...

martes, 7 de octubre de 2008

PHASE 1: My idea...

I would like to explain a little bit more what is my idea about the PHASE 1 project, as I already started conceiving/designing it. Hyperfiction or hypertext fiction is more than just the simple act of linking documents with software tools, as this would be insufficient. This concept is not new. Cortazar with his "Rayuela" (Hopscotch, 1963) reached the edge of the hypertext. But the new thing is now technology allows the real birth of this form of literature. And most importantly, today society is prepared to adopt it. Cybercitizens, grown in audiovisual environments, claim other different forms of storytelling: they ask for images and sounds. They ask for worlds in which they could immerse. So it is the time to provoke the Singularity to introduce these new content, the evolution of the oldest and most traditional forms, into our everyday world. And that's what I want my project to be about. I want it to be a kind of window talking about the huge synergy between technology, society and literature (and the contradictions and boundaries that came across the way).

There is a very interesting text about this idea here.

domingo, 5 de octubre de 2008

collecting QUOTES: exploring hyperfiction

I've been thinking about my project during the last week, and nothing really consistent came to my mind until a couple of days ago. Since I started studying "theory and practice of the hypertext" for my journalism degree, my interest in hyperfiction literature began to grow. The hyperfiction literature is a conceptual precedent for the hypertext theory in the literay productien field, along with many other areas such as the “exquisite corpse” and other pre-hypertextual text (also called "non-texts"), about which I'm pretty sure I will write on later posts.

I have always been fascinated about how one can create a fictional story in which the reader may seek “his own path", building a parallel work (that's what hyperfiction is). Besides this, I think it may be a good topic for my project as it there is a direct relation with the binomial "art" and "technology". The quotes I've collected so far, though I maybe get some more, are related to the theory and history of hypertext (since it was discovered in the mid-twentieth century), as well as I have others from authors who have launched into the hyperfiction literature adventure. I hope something will come out of all this!


"Hypertext is a system of recovery and administration of electronic information that operates through non-linear forms" Michael M. Mirabito

"a sequence of links connecting internal and external electronic text snippets, creating a text experienced by the reader as a non-linear, or rather, as multilinear or multisequential" George P. Landow

"Our inability to access a database is largely due to the artificiality of index systems. When stored data of any kind, it is sorted alphabetically or numerically, and information may only be retrieved back following it by subcategories. It can only be in one place, unless you use dual systems, we need rules about which path we must follow to locate it, but the rules bother. Moreover, after finding a piece of information, we have to leave the system to re-enter and then keep following another path". Vannevar Bush

'Holding' a fact or an idea our mind jumps instantly to the information below; it is suggested by association of ideas, following some intricate web of roads formed by cells in the brain". Vannevar Bush

"I understand hypertext as a non-sequential writing. The writing is traditionally sequential for two reasons. The first one is derived from the spoken speech, which is sequential, and the second is because the books are written to be read in a sequence ... however, the structures of the ideas are not sequential. They are intertwined in many directions. And when we write, we always try to relate things in a non-sequential form" Theodor H. Nelson.

"With hypertext, I mean a non-sequential writing, a text that forks, which allows the reader to choose and that are best read on a screen interactive. According to the popular notion, this is a series of text blocks connected together by links, which are different itineraries for the user. " T. Nelson

"My idea was to combine in any way the external links of Enquire with hypertext, networking schemes developed for the PRC. This external hypertext links made the difference between prison and freedom, darkness and light. You could make new networks to connect different computers, and all new systems would be able to escape and relate to others. In addition, anyone who was taking a glance at it could instantly add a new node connected to a new link" T. Nelson

"What was exciting for us in these type of productions was the certainty, better or for worse, they represented something that was not possible for the work of a single mind, and possessed a degree in exceptional quality" pursuit", so peculiar in the poetry" Andre Breton

"The are a lot of possibilities: some elections are simple, others sensible, some frivolous and some dangerous .... It is you who should take the decisions. You can read this book many times and get different results. Remember that you choose the adventure, you are the adventure. If you take a foolish decision, come back to the top and start again. There is no right or wrong choices, but many choices". Choose your own Adventure Book Series

jueves, 2 de octubre de 2008


Prior to the Enlightenment, art was understood as an imitation, and plagiarism was more or less well-accepted, since it made possible for artworks to reach those areas where they would otherwise be unknown and also helped to avoid the privatization of culture. However, the advent of the Enlightenment began to promote the myth of a negative plagiarism: it started to be viewed as the theft of language, ideas, and images by the less than talented, often for the enhancement of personal fortune or prestige.

At this particular turning point, Critical Art Ensemble proposes the reverse of the myth, so that we can begin to think it is those who support the legislation of representation and the privatization of language that are suspect, and the plagiarists are those who contribute most to cultural enrichment (under certain conditions). Nowadays (an era of recombinant and digitalization), thus, new technologies make plagiarism an acceptable and even crucial strategy.

Basically, the recombinant's theory is based on the following ideas:
  • plagiarism and copying has always been a key to the meanings evolution as well as for the invention
  • in societies dominated by a "knowledge" explosion, exploring the possibilities of meaning in that which already exists is more pressing than adding superfluous and redundant information
  • accepting plagiarism as a productive strategy does not completely mean abandoning the romantic model of production (which may be considered an anachronistic conception, though timely useful/required)
The most interesting point of the article is, perhaps, what were the consequences of the IT introduction on such concepts as "author" or "linear text”. On the one hand, the concept of “author” in a romantic way has stopped working and has become an abstract aggregate(Barthes and Foucault). On the other, hypertextuality has played (and plays) a key role in the recombinant culture (from Vanevar Bush, with his prototype Memex, until Tim Berners Lee, inventor of the www) that has made possible for production, distribution and consumption processes to become a single act, without a closed and categorized beginning and ending. Therefore, the article invites us to rethink the idea of plagiarism and reap the benefits of the present recombination methodology.

"Fountain" by Marcel Duchamp (1917). This urinal has become a symbol of the ready-made art, one of the many expressions of the recombinant strategy.

miércoles, 1 de octubre de 2008

Freedom, software and society

I've been working these past days on a book review about the free software movement, and have thought it could be a good idea to post it here (not the whole text, just an excerpt) because it is really related to the main topic of this blog. The book is “Free Software. Free Society”, by software freedom activist and programmer Richard M. Stallman.

“Work for something because it is good, not just because it stands a chance to succeed.” Vaclav Havel.

“A business making proprietary software stands a chance of success in its own narrow terms, but it is not what is good for society” Richard Stallman


Considered the father of the free software, Richard M. Stallman has spent years solidifying a career devoted to a single cause: the fight against a proprietary software model established at the end of the 70's. The birth, and subsequent boom of this model, personally affected him, not only as a software programmer and developer, but as a political and culturally committed citizen. The work "Free Software. Free Society", published in 2002, is product of those over thirty years of struggle, a compendium of articles and essays Stallman himself has been accumulating since the very beginning of his project: to initiate a free software movement on his own, and not only by an act of rebellion, but with a firm belief of social duty.

The intersection of ethics, law, business and computer software is the main subject of these essays and speeches: a collection that includes historical writings (related to the beginnings of the free software movement, like The GNU Manifesto1) along with new ones on hot topics in copyright, patent law, and the controversial issue of “trusted” computing. In some of the essays, Stallman takes a critical look at several issues related to the software and its social implications, such as common abuses of copyright law and patents when applied to computer software programs, and how these abuses damage our entire society and remove our existing freedoms. In others, he also discusses the social aspects of software and how free software can create community and social justice.

The structure and content of the whole text is already outlined in the prologue, written by lawyer Lawrence Lessig2 -author of two well-known books on similar topics3-. After a brief introduction to the author, whom he considers "a philosopher of the 20th century ", the text falls squarely in the problematic issue of the term "free", a confusing word in English by the ambivalence of its meaning (not free as in costless, but free as in limited in its control by others), undoubtedly the cornerstone that bases this essays collection. According to the free software community, a program is free when the user can basically exercise four freedoms: the freedom to run a program, whatever its purpose; the freedom to modify it; the freedom to distribute copies free of charge or in exchange for money; and the freedom to distribute modified versions, so that the community can take advantage of the improvements. Contrary to what has been often criticized, the free software movement has nothing to do with a monetary issue and, as may be noted, this idea of "freedom" -in the more political and socially committed sense of the term-, constantly repeated throughout the text, is not only the key to understand Richard Stallman's project (and, of course, his work “Free Software. Free Society”), but also constitutes the anchor for the free software movement to legitimize its existence.

Free software. Free society” in the social movements context. A personal view.

Beyond the sympathy Stallman himself or his movement work may arouse, it is necessary to review some interesting points of the book. First, it must be recognized that the free software movement is not a trivial matter, and that it is so powerful that even Microsoft Corp. has acknowledged this is its biggest threat, and possibly end up agreeing to join the movement4. In this regard, the set of essays in "Free Software. Free Society" reflects the spirit of the movement (and does not focus on a historical perspective) and the fundamental principles that led Stallman to respond against proprietary software.

Undoubtedly, the essays cover a wide spectrum and include many not very well-known arguments (it is remarkable the particularly intelligent assessment on the changing circumstances that have made copyright a bit suspicious in the digital era). Moreover, the book is didactive, and easy to understand for non-techicians: the essays cater to a wide audience, thus readers do not need a computer science background to understand the philosophy and ideas herein. Actually, the book includes a “Note on Software”5, to help the less technically inclined reader become familiar with some common computer science jargon and concepts, as well as footnotes throughout.

However, "Free Software. Free Society" is not exempt from criticism. Stallman himself has sometimes been criticized for being somewhat dogmatic and unreasonable. His uncompromising attitude on ethical issues concerning computers and software has caused some people to label him as radical and extremist6. And some of this radicalism is distilled in "Free Software. Free Society", especially in some chapters where readers can percieve proprietary software companies as the “incarnation of evil". Paradoxically, many important keys for the free software movement have been criticized for not being radical alternatives (such as the copyleft license).

Despite these criticisms, I personally find very important - and this is the main reason why I chose “Free Software. Free Society” for a book review- the fact that free software movement is beyond an IT issue. It is a technical-political revolution with very valuable ethical principles: it proves that it is possible to activate social mechanisms of production innovation based on the massive and open cooperation; that alternative tools can possibily be developed; and that there are different kinds of ways of thinking about copyright. In fact, this book talks about freedom in the IT field (access to the source code is something that, after all, only affects software developers and not ordinary citizens), just as an excuse to defend freedom in other areas of life.


1 Published in March 1985 in “Dr. Dobb's Journal of Software Tools” as an explanation and definition of the goals of the GNU Project. It is held in high regard within the free software movement as a fundamental philosophical source. The full text is included with GNU software such as Emacs, and is available online (

2 Lawrence Lessig is a professor of law at Stanford Law School and founder of its Center for Internet and Society. He is also a noted legal expert on copyright law and a committed political activist.

3 Code and other laws of cyberspace (1999) and Free Culture: The Nature and Future of Creativity (2004), both released on the Internet under the Creative Commons Attribution/Non-commercial license, and published later in paperback format.

5 This note includes a good and concise an explanation of the meaning of "source code," "compiler," "assembler," "machine code" and "operating system", among others.

6 DANIEL LYONS “The Problem With St. Ignucius”, 08.31.06 (Forbes)

viernes, 26 de septiembre de 2008

Wonders of Art&Technology

Transition of several female portraits throughout Art's History from Renaissance to the 20th Century, with cello solo on the background. It's a prove that people can make amazing artistic things using technology, don't you think so?

jueves, 25 de septiembre de 2008

Html/WYSIWYG/Garbage code

Two years ago I had to design a website for a journalism course. It was not technically a web design course, but an optional project. A friend and I made a site about the Spanish film director Pedro Almodovar (which I cannot link here, as it's unfortunately no longer online), and although it was not perfect, I loved the result. For all the work, I used Macromedia Dreamweaver, a WYSIWYG webpage design editor. And that's just what I wanted to talk about today, now that I finally could install Homesite on my PC (I can't use Bbedit, because don't have a Mac) for the phase 1 of my project.

On that occasion, the professor explained to us that for a webpage creation wasn't really necessary to know how html code worked (a relatively easy to grasp language, but rather unwieldy), and that was better and faster to use programs that allow you to "see what you finally get." Canada has changed my perspective: not only for the website design, but especially for a html-based art project, it makes little sense to use a software that writes the code itself.

Moreover, one of the problems that some WYSIWYG editors have is the so-called “garbage code”. The garbage code is that unnecessary code the software automatically generates and that slows down the webpages loading from the Internet or their appearance in web sites lists by search engines like Google. Regarding this, I've found out this interesting article that demonstrates how Frontpage editor truly adds unnecessary, useless code to web pages created and modified with this software. Here I show you a very funny excerpt from the article:

"Author Dori Smith did a comparison of editors and how much code they produce. "The goal was to produce a simple Web page containing just a single linked image that rolled over to another image." The summary of the results:

- Macromedia Dreamweaver MX: 49 lines, 1,733 characters
- Adobe GoLive 6: 55 lines, 1,453 characters
- Microsoft FrontPage 2002: 730 lines, 16,380 characters !!!
- Hand-coding: 29 lines, 858 characters

Resource: 2002_11_17_archive.html#a003122

If anybody out there thinks that 10 to 15 times more code will not slow down a page upload on the Internet, well he should look well at those number above and make a few simple calculations."

domingo, 21 de septiembre de 2008

keywords discussion: détournement / appropiation / plagiarism

]] The left image is the painting "Portrait of Pope Innocent X" by Diego Valazquez, a Spanish painter. The right image is a painting by English modernist Francis Bacon,"Study after Velazquez's Portrait of Pope Innocent X". [[

The other day the class discussion focused on the differences and similarities between three concepts (some keywords that we have to define through the wiki of "The electronic landscape"): detóurnement, appropiation and Plagiarism. I personally chose to edit "Plagiarism" because I've always had a keen interest in this topic, because of its very important relationship with journalism, especially with online journalism and web content.

The discussion was very interesting because the line that defines the three concepts is very thin, and often leads to confusion. In the context of visual arts, Appropriation is the act of borrowing imagery, forms or styles from history / popular culture or more commonly, the work of another artist. Plagiarism ocurrs when one imitates others' work and ideas and claims it as one's own. And Détournement is the use of pre-existing artistic or cultural elements in a new ensemble, often obliterating any pre-existing meaning associated with the original piece. A new and often radical meaning is then attached to the new piece, which is often contradictory to the original.

I personally find appropiation is a more general concept (the fact of borrowing “a piece of an artwork”, whereas plagiarism and détournement refer to more specific notions: claiming the ownership of other's work, or changing the original meaning of the piece of art.

I give you some of the links I find really interesting to explore about the three concepts:

On Walter Benjamin: art or politics?

As a journalism student, two years ago I had to read (and reread) the text of Walter Benjamin, "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction". At that time I didn't know anything about this author's work, not even which was its positioning within the (newly known for me) "Frankfurt School". But even so, I think I was able to take a few conclusions about the text, which were then reinforced with further explanations and clarifications of the professor in class. Now, I think I had to change my approach to the text: if then I read the text from a -essentialy- political perspective, now I feel I must respond more to the aesthetic issue.

Let's break this down: the essay "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” (1935) reflects the new forms of aesthetic experience and its potential for the dominant political role of the artwork. The author uses the concept of “aura” as a central category: this notion (used for the first time by the same author in his work “The Origin of German Tragic Drama," 1928) to reveal any work of art as a relationship of "closeness" and "remote". An “auratic” work is one that moves away from the viewer, one that is wrapped in a sacred aura that gives it the consideration of "piece of art."

Well, the author explains how the Aura of the artwork is removed by the mechanical reproduction process. In a way, the mechanical reproduction neutralizes the distance between the work and the viewer. With the “reproduction tecnicques”, the workart is a manipulable object with which the viewer is able to establish a more active relationship, as the experience is not confined to the pure observation. And that happens, overall, with the advent of photography, and later film. If “auratic art” showed a “cult value” of the workart, there is an “exhibition value”. The mechanical reproduction eliminates, thus, that imaginary distance and bring the workart as closer to the crowd as about the crowd to the workart.

I admit I understood only very little of the text the first time I read it. Moreover, I'd dare to say I understood exactly the opposite to the intent of the author: I thought Benjamin defended the “aura”, and believed mechanical reproduction was seen by the author as a “bad thing”, a device to make the art “disappear”. But it is just the opposite: he is against the aura, because he sees it as a mechanism that keeps the art close to the masses of people, to the ordinary people. The reproduction technique gives everyone the chance to contemplate a Picasso, or the Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci, without having to go to the Louvre and breathe "his aura." I guess my error was (besides the complexity of the text) to read the text from a purely aesthetic point of view, not in a politics way. The aesthetic changes that are taking place because of the reproducibility technique were not seen by Walter Benjamin (it must be remembered that he was a marxist) more than a chance to achieve other changes (more important to him), such as political and social changes.

I suppose we will have to really wonder wether the aura has disappeared into the works of art, or if it has become (against Benjamin's premonition) a mass phenomenon. In museums It is a very common experience to find huge crowds at the museums, devotioning the works of art in an almost fetishist way. After all, we all prefer to go to Paris to see the Mona Lisa at the Louvre, rather than to have the Da Vinci's painting as a screen on the computer.

viernes, 19 de septiembre de 2008

New blog, new adventure

Well, that's it. A new blog, and ready to launch a new venture with it. Today is the beginning of Jorkjeimer's new adventure and, well, as I've already written in the blog's introduction (in the sidebar), this blog will talk about everything related to art and technology, especially when both of them overlap. Nowadays, it seems that technology is more present than ever in our lives. It's something we have already discussed in class: what makes technology (technology understood in the widest sense, as any tool used to do something) to our lives, and especially which is its contribution to art. Now simply tools have changed, the art in the broadest sense has been democratized, it's out of the museums for the world to enjoy and take part in.

I guess, first of all, I have to clarify something before I get started: that's the name of my blog. The name Jorkjeimer is just a joke I've been using for quite a while, particularly about things that use to envolve computing and the Internet. So the blog is named after the german philosopher and sociologist Max Horkheimer, and I just switch both H to J, thus it's similar to my name in Spanish: Jorge (very difficult to pronounce for foreigners, I know). It's just an old story, hehe.

And that's all for the moment. In this blog, my little space, I will be posting that sort of things, my ideas, my doubts, my points of view... just everything interesting I come across the net. Of course, feel free to comment and share your opinions :)

See ya!