When I first started reading I was told that the key to knowledge was the written word. That is to say that if one were to assemble the correct body of work—a precise, arcane, and enlightening project in its own right—and one were to read this collection deeply and often enough, one could understand everything that there is to know about being—about living and dying and existing and what it is all for and what everything ultimately… means.
Only in recent years have I realized (with some surprise) that I’d clung to this very belief without realizing it, always searching for the “right” books and reading them voraciously for signs and wonders, trying to assemble the body of understanding that I implicitly presumed (without being conscious of the presumption) would grant me some kind of absolution. Instead, with the realization came the requisite loss of the belief.
To have lost the belief that somewhere, in some combination of ideas lies a kind of transcendental rebirth is actually a kind of damnation, but it is also a kind of liberation, if from nothing else than from the prospect that one might actually have to read and re-read everything ever written in order to achieve salvation.
Printing is a prophetic technology, modern personal printers too, in much the same way as typewriters and presses. Today in particular they operate (or rather, are operated) only because we have faith in their ability to deliver knowledge to the future at the time that we engage them. There is no knowledge stored in them, and comparatively little knowledge is embodied in them. In fact they are now removed by several steps from knowledge. They are tools operated by thinking machines operated by demigods exercising little more than belief. But as tools, they project texts safely and simply ahead for generations, something that neither the demigods nor their thinking machines alone are able to do. As a result, what printing machines actually do embody, now in the “information age” more than ever, is the quaint notion of an uninterruptible continuum between present and future, and the Euclidean curve along which the future is therefore ultimately delivered to the present. Through them we can thus know what is to come in a way not possible through “online” texts or verbal communication.
All of this is also bound up in some way with inertia, which is the greatest prophetic force known to mankind, an obvious thing that’s rarely (if ever) said, since it’s so self-evident. But sometimes it’s helpful to notice such things.
All language is performative. Sometimes simply engaging in acts of communication (written, spoken, alexical, whatever) thus makes me feel disingenuous.
Years ago now while I was in computer science I dabbled in trying to design a purely imperative, highly structured human language. The result was a mode of schematic thought in which one was incredibly aware of the process of declaration, i.e. all state expressions had to be reconstructed as imperatives (many of them modal and scoped) that clearly demonstrated the intentionality of the speaker/writer to communicate and to do so with precision. They were thus implicitly social and also democratic in nature. I was not a linguist of course, and I was really young, maybe eighteen, so it was full of problems and naïveté, but I did write a lot of poetry in it and found it to be a strange and unique mode of expression.
I still have data from that time period on my PC, but it’s completely unintelligible now because the character and rule sets for the language are in formats only easily accessible from OS9 platforms and these are today by and large extinct and probably not worth the effort to try to reimplement, the data too fragmentary to reverse engineer.
This is the realization of information mortality (and thus of time as well), something implicitly posited during classical periods and the Enlightenment, but not perfected until late modernity’s “information age,” which ought rightly to be called (as Google or eBay would tell you), the “age of filtration.”
Hurm. When your blog posts look like this, you know it’s time for bed. Good night all.