Writing out “quarter two” of “fiscal year 2015” sure does make the whole writing process seem a lot more official and serious than it ever seems to be in practice. It establishes some firm boundaries. Suggests there’s a real schedule in place. Gives the whole piteous and impossible affair a tinge of legitimacy, even. The harsh markers of capital’s march might even whitewash the image that you might just be lounging in your pants, diddling and doodling, the window of Word patterned over by critical analyses of Tumblr and rage-bait analysis and chats with ghostly people far away. Or so I hear.
There might have been some pants-lounging, but only out of exhaustion: it was an eventful final three months of freelance life, capping a very hectic and full year. I continued writing on many varieties of machine intelligence and human-computer interaction for Rhizome. I went to Texas and wrote on a ranch there. I came back and interviewed a very excellent writer who lives in Texas, while writing seven thousand words on the poetics of superintelligence. I then went to Kazakhstan, in part to attend an economic forum and cover it, and in part to help a writer with his research (another post will come on this trip). In between all this, I wrote for a few artists, and in June, started a new Real Girl job. I also pitched to new places to stretch non-fiction range.
Not all the work this quarter ended up being what I thought it could have been. However: I’m happy for having tried reaching. I guess feeling like your brain might explode is part of the ethic of #accelerate (ew): do more, do it faster, and maybe try do it a little bit better than you did yesterday. Here a list of what I managed to finish followed by what’s to come:
The header image and this above are installation views from XenoEstrogens, a series by the artist Juliette Bonneviot, whose work explores and critiques the ecology of gender. Juliette used xenoestrogens, or the synthetic (and natural) compounds that imitate estrogen, to create these striking paintings. She had me write the text accompanying her series, which first showed at Autocenter in Berlin, then went on to be part of a group show, Looks, at the ICA in London. What I’ve put here doesn’t do justice to the textures, so you might also look at the high-res photos of the paintings here, along with some of her excellent sculptures.
I next reviewed the Karen life-coaching simulation, created by Blast Theory, for Rhizome. This is a project I started with a mournful beagle by my side in a magical beagle-themed airBnB (for real) in Austin. Karen was an impressive and utterly disturbing app- experience that you complete over a week’s time. Its purpose is to provide commentary on the entire project of cognitive computing — think of all the companies and services developing AI neural networks for better ‘customer service’ based on precise psychological profiling. This short essay built on my general curiosity about intelligent agents: the next wave of personalized AI taking the place of loveable, flawed conversational chat bots we use now.
(This isn’t a picture of Karen, but of the aforementioned beagle. He looked over me as I wrote, in an eerie homage to the famous beagle of Ghost in the Shell. Austin is without a doubt, my dream city to live in, tied in a close heat with Los Angeles. This beagle calls to me in my dreams.) Wow! This post is really devolving!
I was in Texas, not to see spirit animals, but to see spirit people, like Jenn Frank, who is a very special human. A terrific writer and games critic, and … well, putting a several year-long meaningful understanding into words is pointless, because that just kind of ruins the understanding. But when I came back, I learned that Jenn was going to speak at the New Museum for the release of three of the main Theresa Duncan games, which Rhizome made available for play in April. Theresa Duncan was a seminal games designer behind games like Chop Suey and Zero Zero, which were meant to illustrate the rich imaginative life of a young girl. These games “spoke to girls and not down to them,” as Miguel Melendez writes.
Jenn Frank’s piece on Chop Suey was part of the inspirational fire under the effort to restore the Theresa Duncan CD-ROMs, an effort curated by Michael Connor, Rhizome’s Artistic Director, and led by Dragan Espenschied, Digital Conservator. Further, her writing and her public voice have long been an inspirational fire for many game makers, game lovers and writers … who yes, still adore games despite all the terror tactics and yuck-inducing of the Community around ’em this past year and some.
I wanted to hear a little bit more about Jenn’s life and about games mean to her, and that’s partly parcel of this interview I did with her, Games are a Faith-based Pursuit. Lots of beautiful observations and stories from Jenn about romance with games and all the facets of what that love can mean. There was so much more to this conversation which could not fit the page; Jenn recently (rightly) pointed out that I edited it in a certain way to maybe allow for a part two and three of these epistles. From one pod to another. Fingers crossed for that.
Finally, wrote this piece with Alexander Iadarola for DIS Magazine: some speculative fiction plus critical assessment of the new M.E.S.H. Piteous Gate LP from PAN Records. This is a really staggering, gorgeous record. Here’s a lovely interview with M.E.S.H. in Fader about his thoughtful work and what went into creating Piteous Gate. Reviewing this was a ton of fun.
Outside of scribbling, there’s a new section here for public speaking, which is something I’m trying to work on. I put up the informal February chat at EMW Booktore, on objectophilia, here, and in March, Jackie Wang was nice enough to invite me to a Porter Square Books panel for an anthology she was published in: The Force of What’s Possible: Writers on Accessibility and the Avant-Garde. This beautiful book is edited by Lily Hoang and Joshua Marie Wilkinson, and was published by Nightboat in Brooklyn. I chatted alongside Jackie, Lily Hoang, Michael Stewart and Annie Won, reading a little bit of Lynne Tillman’s passage in the book (Tillman, my favorite experimental fiction writer), talked about American fiction writers’ struggle to be experimental, and then read from this collaborative essay from last fall, Faulty Inventory Control.
‘Towards a Poetics of Artificial Superintelligence‘ – an essay that I wrote for the magazine after us, is coming out in August. after us will be both distributed online and in print copies sold in shops in London & Berlin. The essay’s theme is our need for a glossary of new metaphors for superintelligence, metaphors which capture its amoral, totalizing and damning power. You should be scared. Well, actually, don’t worry about it. Everything is fine! Here’s a teaser image of the first page, with art by Adam Ferriss.
Manuel Sepulveda, or Optigram, is the tireless editor and creator of after us, which explores futurist speculations in art, science and politics. I already had his art on my shelves and recorded in deep memory grooves from the past fifteen years. He was an immensely patient editor over three months. Thanks so very much to Steve Shaw for introducing us! Also featured in after us: future strategist Benedict Singleton, artist Lawrence Lek, Nick Srnicek, Sam Rolfes, Dave Tompkins, Liam Young and Juan Mateos.
Speaking of Lawrence Lek, I am working on a piece about his Unreal Estate, which is part of a series titled Bonus Levels. Unreal Estate is a game simulation critique, in which the Royal Academy of Arts in London has been sold off to a billionaire for use as a private estate. I am really very thrilled to cover this, as I haven’t written about a game in a couple of years since a piece for Kill Screen on, um, the incredible South Park game.
I’m also finishing another personal essay, this time for Lily Hoang, non-fiction editor of Drunken Boat, on futurist leanings for women of a certain hue: the evolution of the feeling of being Strange into finding a home in speculative poetics. Future Brown, Theory of the New Woman: the desire to run a colony on the outer rim. Brecht for the first generation. It should be pretty short (ha, ha).
This fall promises more travel and so summer is really for the ethic of slow: anti-accelerate. I am planning to dedicate the next few months and the rest of the year, to just creative work. I most want to get back into this thing called reading. Reading is methodical and luxurious intake and is an anti-reactive mode (we might think of the networks we’re immersed in as predicated on being reactive). Reading deepens your thinking, takes you out of yourself. Take pause and slow down and pay attention to what’s happening around you.
Bye for now.