caught wrong footed

Danny Yee (danny@STAFF.CS.SU.OZ.AU)
Mon, 11 Apr 1994 15:20:23 +1000

I was taken wrong footed by your (Christopher Pound's) avowal of
Curnick... I confess I had just assumed you would attempt to disown
her as a 'real' deconstructionist. (I remember making the same
mistake when I compared Bob Graber to fundamentalist Christians.)

> > | On the InterNet all movements are speed ratios for the processing,
> > | storage and transmission of data.
> OK, if you (Danny) think it's necessary for her to be able to "define" her
> terms at any given point, you're obviously not gonna like this. This set up
> is, to me, just a big clue that what she's gonna be talking about is the
> Futurist-ic (as in the avant-garde art movement) "poetics of speed" that is
> characteristic of a lot of everyday talk about the Internet or computers in
> general by their users, builders, and administrators.

Most builders and administrators of the Internet talk about the
Internet in the language of computer science, and few of them would
ever have heard of Futurism. I can assure you that a reference to the
"poetics of speed" in the context of the Internet would just meet
stunned incredulity amongst them. (I spent three years working on a
PhD on routing algorithms before abandoning it, and am currently making
a living as a network administrator; here I really do know whereof I
speak.) And most users treat the Internet much the way they treat the
phone system - as a communication tool.

> The word "movements" has to be interpreted metaphorically, and that's the

It seems that *everything* in the article has to be interpreted

> first indication that she's probably more influenced by Paul Virilio (see
> _The Lost Dimension_) than Derrida. Here's a quote from Virilio: "Finally,
> _informatics_ now appears, as a kind of _energetics_, as a mode of formation,
> because the punctum of electronic action is virtually or practically
> instantaneous." See the connection?

No, I don't, I'm afraid. What is a "mode of formation" or a "punctum
of electronic action"? I presume all this has something to do with
electronic communication being so much faster than things like the
post, but to say that this is significant is to say nothing we didn't
all know already. (Anyone for a study of how traditional pen-friend
relationships mediated by postal mail differ from relationships mediated
by email?)

> "Speed" is also something Virilio talks
> about a lot, but "ratios" is a clue that she might be interested somewhat in
> traces or differ-a-nce or whatever.

I know what the trace of a matrix is, does that help? :-)

> > | Every channel carrying information
> > | also produces noise and non-sense. Information is defined not by meaning
> > | but by the difference between meaning and non-meaning. Its kinetic
> > | longitude is defined by ratios of information to noise. This recognition
> > | of the importance of noise and non-sense in information systems is
> > | crucial.

> I don't know why you're upset about this part. She's pointing out that
> information has nothing to do with meaning itself but rather with measuring the
> possibility of meaning. The "kinetic longitude" of information is what would
> map it back onto the economy of speed that she evoked in the first line, so
> if we interpret this (rather generously) using pseudo-mathematical notation,
> maybe it would go something like:

"economy of speed"? This is like a bad trip; but are you the one tripping
or am I? :-)

> d meaning d information
> information = ------------- and kinetic longitude = -------------
> d non-meaning d noise (~non-meaning)


You are only making this worse. Derivatives are defined for real or
complex functions, differential forms, tensors and a number of other
mathematical entities - and I hope you aren't arguing that "meaning" is
one of these! Pseudo-mathematics like yours doesn't actually explain
anything, so all you have done is presented me with something else I
don't understand (ie what on earth "d meaning" is meant to be).

It really seems to me that all you (and Curnick) are doing is
ransacking other disciplines for their jargon and symbols and using it
to give your own discourse the illusion of sense (and power). So
Curnick wants to use the 100% CSspeak phrase "processing, storage and
transmission of data", but isn't prepared to accept the definition of
information that goes with it (see Shannon 1948) - or maybe she means
something else by "processing, storage and transmission of data"? She
grabs some pop biology and adds that to the stew - but it's obvious to
me (and anyone else with a basic knowledge of biology or computer
communications) that she doesn't really know what she's talking about.

> Like I said, I'm being nice about her use of words like "difference" and
> "ratio" ... :-) The point is that, as she says, noise/nonsense are crucial
> to the poetics of measurement and speed on the Internet (perhaps in the
> same way time is crucial to notions like velocity and acceleration).

So it really is poetry after all. (Or rhetoric, as Maureen Korp
suggested.) In that case the editors of Arena should just be shot, as I
fear some of their readers are going to look to the article as a source
of information on the Internet. (I shudder to contemplate the idea -
the mass media presentation of the Internet in Australia is loony
enough as it is!)

> But then, this is just what occurs to me off the top of my head. I'm not
> saying she's got it right, just that it seems to work so far, and I'm
> trying to explain why in ways that should make sense to you (Danny).

Derivatives as used in mathematics make sense to me. If you want to
differentiate cats, the Moon, love or meaning, then that is just extra
confusion - now I not only want to know what you mean by the word
'derivative' in that context, but also why you chose a term already
used in mathematics and what you think they have in common.

> Probably, this explanation is off in a lot of ways since I haven't bothered
> to make reference to Derrida yet, myself (differentials and differance are
> not the same thing, after all; one of the major points of difference being
> that differentials have obscured the degree to which they are *deferrals*
> of meaning (if I remember correctly, this should remind you of how and why
> calculus was invented);

I'm afraid not. The differential calculus was invented by Newton and
Leibniz in order to solve certain physical problems; I don't believe
"deferral of meaning" entered into it.

> differance also has nothing to do with any sort of
> transcendent method, in the way differentials do).

What? Differentials have something to do with some kind of transcendent
method? That's the first I heard of it, and I've been using the damn
things for a decade!

> [ Stuff I don't know enough about, e.g. DNA, to comment on deleted. ]

Yes, well I think I *do* know enough to be able to tell she's talking
nonsense, both in biology and in computer science. It seems to me that
to understand deconstructionism I would not only have to spend years
studying continental philosophy, I would also have to throw away all my
knowledge of the hard sciences...

> > | Therefore, language on the Net, which is also a system of information
> > | channels or strands, needs to be conceived of as 'writing' in Derrida's
> > | sense, that is, as a system of inscribed differences emerging as a
> > | selection from a reservoir of non-sense, etching its differences on the
> > | surface of bodies and returning to the murmur of the source.

> This is her showing that she's read some Derrida and thinks that it will be
> useful for studying computers, computer networks, and computerized discourse.

So to publish a paper all I need to do is have read some Derrida and
think it might be useful for studying something I don't understand very
well? Hmmm... I know a tiny bit about the history of art (probably as
much as Curnick knows about biology or computer science) - do you think
if I dressed a few banalities up with some really heavy symbolic algebra
I could get it published somewhere?

And, as John McLeery has pointed out, a thousand papers which basically
say "I think deconstructionism might be useful in studying X" don't
amount to any evidence that it is in fact useful for something.

> Derrida actually does a much better job of defining what he thinks "writing"
> is and does so in a way that makes it clear that "language on the Net" will
> have been included; on page 9 of _Of Grammatology_, we find: "one says
> 'language' for action, movement, thought, reflection, consciousness,
> unconsciousness, experience, affectivity, etc. Now we tend to say 'writing'
> for all that and more: to designate not only the physical gestures of literal
> pictographic or ideographic inscription, but also the totality of what makes
> it possible; and also, beyond the signifying face, the signified face itself.
> And thus we say 'writing' for all that gives rise to an inscription in
> general, whether it is literal or not and even if what it distributes in
> space is alien to the order of the voice ..."

I don't pretend to understand this, but it seems to be saying that
'writing' is a broader concept than 'language'. If this is meant to
be a claim about everyday usage, as the "one says..." suggests, then
this is just plain false (I checked this by asking four random friends
- they all agree that language is a broader concept than writing). And
I have grave doubts about the reasonableness of 'totality of what makes
... possible' as a way of defining anything.

> Actually, there's an old doctrine in anthropological linguistics that says
> "Writing isn't language!" Anth. linguists are reluctant to give up the
> authentic status of speech, because it threatens their authority as people
> who've been in the field. Considering their overall project, they have good
> reasons for rejecting writing as a source of linguistic "data," but this is,
> ultimately, a serious problem in that their overall project is indeed to turn
> that linguistic "data" into writing (in fact, Derrida might argue that the
> moment it is construed as data -- as soon as its form and content are
> separated from one another -- it has already become writing). In any case,
> that's a totally different argument ...

Hey, a paragraph I understood! But this is hardly news, or something
only deconstructionists can tackle.

> If the author of this article on the Internet really goes anywhere with her
> citation of Derrida, I can't tell from the fragment presented. What she
> says, basically, is that the Internet is a constellation of three things:
> speed, measurement, and writing (in the Derridean sense). I can't say she's
> the best writer in the world or that her definition of writing is all that
> cogent (it *does* include some other things about Derrida's understanding
> of 'writing' that the quote I gave from Derrida doesn't have in it), but I
> don't find that her writing gets in the way of what she means, because I
> think that part of what she "means" is for you, the reader, to have an
> experience with the poetics of "speed" and "difference," things that she
> mentions so frequently.

I can't judge whether it contributes anything to deconstructionist
"Theory", but it sure don't say anything interesting about computer
networks. And if deconstructionism has no use except to further
deconstructionist Theory, then why should I be interested?

> Is that a problem? I love reading ethnography that takes on the experiential
> characteristics of what it is supposed to have represented (but this is
> mainly out of personal preference and not a prescription for ethnographic
> writing by any means).

I'll stick to laughing at Ludwig Plutonium's ravings in sci.physics
(sample appended); they are considerably more entertaining.

Danny Yee.


In article <2nps2d$> (Ludwig Plutonium) writes:
>It was not by coincidence that the only world conqueror was Alexander
>the Great. And it was not by coincidence that the world's first
>greatest library and repository of my work when I as Archimedes in my
>past life was Alexandria. Alexandria was my personal repositary and my
>teacher and mentor. (Beware of those who call my proof Heron's formula
>or Hero's formula, I will recycle all of your nastiness. I proved the
>formula. It is the Archimedes-Plutonium formula, and do not be
>surprised when I sue you in court for theft of intellectual property,
>property that was mine as Archimedes. I will sue you for billions,
>spelled with a B, of those US microscopic dollars-- social welfare
>parasite money-worse than leeches sucking your every working and
>sleeping hour of the day or night.) I am calmed down now, let us get
>back to the subject at hand.
>I was mostly alone back then when I was Archimedes, BTW, I invented the
>"spaghetti maker" spaghetti marinara with the tiny sardines not those
>fish sized tasteless ones was my favorite food. The spaghetti maker I
>invented via Archimedean Screw for the Eygptian irrigation-- get the
>connection-- you dumb idiots of this world. Next time I am at Pluto's
>judgement seat I will ask it not to send me back to this corner of the
>5f6, you ingrates, it is a blessing to be on a different planet then
>Earth, hope the Predator makes trophies of you all. Anyway getting
>I need AA back, although not armed with the lightweight Einstein
>hockeypuck. Any dumb idiot, drunk or not, can see that the universe is
>governed by electromagnetism since the Coulomb force is the same
>inverse square law as gravity. Any stupid idiot can see that, but not
>Einstein or the klutzes that followed him.
> But an AA armed with the arsenal of Quantum Mechanics would be the
>world's first grand intelligence. AA armed with the four quantum
>principles would be a new species Homo supersapiens. Almost as good as
>my supergenius. BTW, the planet Earth has had only two supergeniuses,
>me and me (when I was Archimedes.)
>I need AA with the four quantum principles as his every guide (1)
>Uncertainty (2) Complementary (3) Pauli Prinzip (4) Superposition. An
>AA armed with quantum mechanics would make mincemeat and souffle out of
>the herd of professors. AA armed with QM, one is better dropping out of
>college and university because AA is better than a whole string of
>professors. AA with QM would blow away a professor of math, a professor
>of physics, a professor of biology, a professor of chemistry, a Net
>nit-picker, a Net vandal, and even a Net moderator. An AA armed with
>Quantum Physics would make a math or physics moderator look like
>birdbrain chimp dog in comparison. All those that lived, when LP lived.
> Save yourself $10,000 or $20,000 microdollars of welfare parasite
>money. And just learn from Abian. An Abian armed with QM would make
>professors look like the Dr. Silberman of the Terminator movies. And
>isn't that what most professors of science are? Just hop, skip and a
>jump Dr.Silberman complexes.
>I need Abian back armed with QM. Please come back. The sooner the
>PU, Pluto, bless Alexander Abian, and the engineers thereof, to the
>Fields of Elysium. And may it ever be so humble as to stare you in its
>eyes to bless us with the returned presence of an armed Quantum
>Mechanical Abian in our presences. ATOM
>Let us pray by singing,...
>Play the synthesized music of Thine is the Glory with LP's replaced
>lyrics. Sung reverentially when Abian returns armed with QM. Replace
>son with daughter when appropriate.
>Thine is the gluon Risen Conquering Son
>Endless is the victory Thou over death hast won
>Atoms in bright spectral lines
>Red orange yellow green blue indigo violet.
>Where thy Protons are
>Thine is the gluon Risen Conquering Son
>Endless is the victory Thou over death hast won
>Photon soul meet the Atom Protons
>Lovingly it greets thee
>Scatters fear and gloom
>Let the Protons with gladness
>Hymns of triumph sing
>For the photon soul will reliveth
>Photon soul will be rebundled
>Thine is the gluon Risen Conquering Son
>Endless is the victory Thou over death hast won
>No more we doubt thee Atom Protons of Life
>Life is nought without thee
>Aid us in our srtife. Make us more than conquerors
>Through thy endless love
>Bring us safely to the Nucleus
>From thy Electron home above
>Thine is the gluon Risen Conquering Son
>Endless is the victory Thou over death hast won