The Interface As A Form Of Artificial Life

The Interface As A Form Of Artificial Life

2001-12-10
Riposte to: 

In response to Bill Wilson’s provocation (about not “getting through” to a younger audience), Linda Brigham introduces a cognitive perspective and closes with a metaphor from music - eventually the design-governing metaphor for the site design.

Thanks, Bill, for the wonderful post.

I am still stuck on the ontology of what this project, archive,? is - something that relates, I think, to Bill’s problem of “getting through,” penetrating what seems to be a closed loop, and an unhappily closed loop. The more I take electronic degrees of freedom for granted, the more odd embodied memory seems to me. I have become accustomed to considering the electronic environments I work in as distributed memory, and now I’m becoming suspicious of the analogy in ways that echo, I think, Kate Hayles’s many-sided critique of disembodiment in We Have Never Been Human. This is not to say I’m somehow going anti-hypertext, pro-something else (after all, print is distributed memory too). It’s rather that the flickering materiality of this medium (something like a language, but something like an object as well) has led me to make losing deals in terms of BOTH language and objects. When connectivity echoes embodied association, and one takes one for the other, something hollowing happens. (I think this sentiment echoes some of the melancholy of Richard Powers’s work - Joe has written about it.) Hence my tendency to want to see the mutant EBR as some form of artificial life - in order to make it more fully an object, and less a “medium.”

One anecdote, from which I have drawn no conclusions: My university invited a speaker in classics here, Stanley Lombardo. Stanley translates Homer. Stanley memorizes in order to translate; also in order to perform. He tells Homer in the Greek. He tells Homer in translation. So he comes here, and does a reading of his recent translation of the Calypso chapter in the Odyssey. He’s a striking presence. I ask him, after the reading, what it’s like to have such a huge text in his head. He’s telling me it’s a way of being - cites a Zen saying, that it’s a way of “becoming the brows of the master” - by which he means living behind the master’s eyeballs, in the master’s head (he demonstrates this gesturally).

I find I’m so hooked on computer metaphors for memory and mind that I’m looking at his head as if text is in there, and I’m wanting him to show me where it is, like you might demonstrate a Zip drive. But memorized connectivity works by contiguous association, not subject categories - the way you get somebody to remember a poem is to say a few words of it, and they pick it up, or music, hum a few bars.

So - I am perhaps moving towards a database/association binary opposition.

-Linda