January 12th, 2011 / 9:06 pm
Craft Notes

On Ecology and Art

“Will you please write just one great book instead of a bunch of good ones, please?”

I read that on Twitter about an hour ago, from Giancarlo. I’ve been wanting to write down or through some thinking about an ecology of art for awhile. Ecology may be the right word, economy may be the right word. I’m wary of economy. I hate economics and finance, although I find myself morbidly curious about it all.

I’m increasingly convinced that living in megaindustrialized/meganetworked environments is not good, for the most part. Abuses of power are rampant and easy to hide behind layers and layers of abstracted steps up or down the supply chain. I’m thinking about: the bloody production of electronics, the bailout of gambling houses/i.e. banks and investment firms, the Gulf oil spill, the Iraq & Afghanistan wars. As much as I’d like to dodge particularizing the general and vice versa, these destructive events seem to stem from the mishandling of resources. Companies like Apple, Dell, Sony and Samsung don’t want to pay suppliers and manufacturers more to make sure their materials come from mines that aren’t run by violent criminals; they point their finger at the next abstract layer in the supply chain and say ‘We’re trying, but it’s really their responsibility.’ It’s easy to use your publicly trusted persona to direct attention/blame elsewhere. BP avoided building and maintaining a safe structure. They saved money in the short term, then the rig blew up. People died. We know the rest. I don’t claim to know much, but I bet that building hospitals and schools and roads in Iraq and Afghanistan would be more effective against future violence than what’s happening there now. It may not guarantee an easy extraction point for oil and lithium, though.

Right now, because of Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s regard for him, I’m reading Karl Popper. The Open Society and Its Enemies: Plato. It’s great so far. The most reasoned and lucid argument against certain hegemonic/historicist thinking I’ve read. There seems to be a zeitgeist building about the dangers of overcomplex systems and short-term thinking. This global complexity is unique in its scale. Never before has the daily activity of so many people depended on the daily activity of so many other people. (substitute institutions for people, too) This is obviously dangerous, and prone to error, fuckups, disaster, fragility. What Nassim Taleb advocates is a mirroring of nature: local environments, diverse environments, no huge institutions. Putting one egg each in twelve baskets, basically. Human life, its evolutionary process, has worked for awhile. Trust it, he says. And here I am writing this on a computer, staring into a screen. Oh boy.

A conservative estimate of the number of English language novels published a year: 100,000. I’m not going to harp on that, or go ‘Oh the horror’, ‘Too much!’, etc. That’s been done and done and done. I’m also going to admit up front that the following line of thinking is probably very related to my cyclic extrovert/introvert emotional trappings. But, here’s what I want to stress. As much as ecology, and especially the ecology of production and consumption, is a growing concern, I think art and more fundamentally attention can and should be examined with ecology in mind. Economy of attention is like the perverted info porn New Years Resolution office yearn since the birth of the Internet, but economy isn’t where the stress should lay; that’s too focused, funnily enough. Ecology of attention, your attention’s relationship to what pulls at it, what it pushes forward and out, and how it mitigates itself, is more important. It’s privileged to feel stricken after reading updates on 100+ of your online friends’ novels/poems/films/charities, I know. And I also anticipate the argument that I’m missing the forrest for the trees, that I’ve sought out an excessive amount of art, that I’ve consumed too much, that I’ve engaged in and help build a community of prolific consumption and production. But I do often feel that way–exhausted, overwhelmed, underwhelmed–after processing a big chunk of social information. Other days it’s been pure motivation, joy. I’ve been gently and non-specifically capping my time on the internet, though, taking breaks from using the internet completely, and it feels good. That clean RESET feeling, to me, is similar to the feeling of reading a capital-G-Great book, one I know I’ll reread, one I add to a curated and careful stack. The books that feel too wide and deep to catch in one sight. Movies, too. And music. I’ve been downloading much less music, and have been driving in silence way more often. Overall, with more frequent RESETS: I think it’s helped me think and behave better.

How this relates to art making: what Gian said at the top of this post. I haven’t been a practitioner of this in the past. I’ve written plenty of stuff that I know I should’ve worked on more, and more importantly: I knew it then. But the draw of action-buttons and new social info, i.e. feedback, approval, manifestation, was more than enough for me to crack and go that way. This is the basic pollutive act. It’s easy to decry other peoples’ activity; I accept the sentiment from Gian because I think he’s been practicing what he preaches with his writing and with his publishing. It’s harder to restrain. I think I’m getting better at it. I wrote a novel when I was 15, and that’s under my bed for the foreseeable future. I wrote a short novel two years ago, maybe longer, and sent it to a few people to consider, to publish. But then I used the novel as a frame for a script for a short film. Then I used that as a frame for a feature film script. Now I’ve got a much bigger story. It feels better. Different form, two years later, but I think the thing is finally made. (before it’s made again, filmed) I’m not sending the novel out anymore. Chalk this up to fear, laziness, whatever: I finally know it’s right.

What I love about the small/independent press environment: you get diversity, varied flora and fauna, and you get it small. It’s connected to a person most of the time. It’s not abstract, it’s not layered away. The supply chain is very short. It’s more artisanal than it is commodified, even to an great degree like the work of Solar Luxuriance (by Mike Kitchell). Or in the extreme degree like single editions. One could lob greedy or private at those single physical productions, but it doesn’t seem to be entirely harmful; e.g. painting, live music. Conversation. It is weird to me that moreso than sex, meals in our out, travel, the thing that desires and lives by variance is conversation. Or it can be. That is partly what bugs me about many social network placed communication, including my own: its very formed, repetitive. Ahh, maybe it wouldn’t be if people listened and engaged better. Ahh, you like what you like. Consider the end of this paragraph the closest point to me deleting this entire post.

After my first experience at AWP last year, the two points I took away from it: it’s good for socializing and the bookfair is a horrible place to socialize, i.e. hang out with people elsewhere, and it’s good for buying a lot of books for cheap on the last day, i.e. predatory consumption. (Not completely serious on the predatory, but still) Aggressively selling books sucks, but presenting them as flowers and letting the occasional roamer smell one and maybe pick it: that was good. That felt natural. That attitude may keep my small press small, but it feels good. Sorry. I’ll choose to use a bullhorn in arenas for that: reviews, recommendations on blogs, etc. Peacock signals in a zoo.

That leads into a general feeling about curiosity: curiosity, averaged out, is ambient and roaming. The extreme curiosities have always existed, but most of us are manageably curious. We graze, browse; our intellectual consumption is varied and is mostly peaks and valleys. That hasn’t changed in a couple million years. Today it seems it is easier to structure and make daily the same activities, the same (often big, weirdly big) intakes of info, than it ever has been. This, at the least, should be questioned. Probably, for our health at base, resisted. Many of us communicate a lot. Many of us make a lot of art. Biologically, this may be good for quality and variety, both of the art-making brain and of art. But ecologically, holistically, this might not be good. In parallel to the publicly accountable profit margins–the stomachs–of the aforementioned big bodies, we now may be too hungry.

I don’t want to veer into a nostalgia for older forms, more ideal forms. Popper is very good at showing how corrosive that sort of thinking can be. What I do want to hope for is more critical examination, more philosophy, less shit-against-the-wall. As other nations become industrialized, there will be more time spent making and consuming culture. American cultural will wane. Maybe we’ll get less loud and ephemeral, politically, culturally. Since I posted this, I’ve come back to add this chunk to this paragraph: some formal ideas that are appearing less in industrialized life: symmetry (e.g. corporate pay: bonuses, but to correct harmful short-term gaming: where are minuses?), transparency (simplicity, really), responsibility (e.g. corporate responsibility: what captains go down with the ship, anymore?), and saying, out loud: I don’t know.

If everything structural was taken away from me–the screens, houses, shops, cars, phones–what would I have? What would I want? I can only meekly say: I’d have my body, my voice. I’d have my friends, family. I could walk. I could tell stories. Hopefully eventually drink clean water and eat wild food. Eventually: I could scratch, I could write. But the stick would blunt, the charcoal would rub away, the throat would get old. Would I think of stories differently? Would I regard and hold what I tell in a higher, more erosive light?

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  1. Mike Young

      great post, man. i stew on this kind of stuff a lot. just read the book AND THEN THERE’S THIS, which talks about a culture of nanostories and our self-conscious acceptance of such a culture, our romanticized junk food diets; the book didn’t really have a lot of new ideas in it, but it’s put this idea of ecological story-sharing upfront in my head.

      in one chapter was an interesting and pretty simple economics anecdote about the guy whose account is going to grow 14% in 14 years or something. and the breakdown of how much anxiety he’ll feel versus how many times he checks his account. if he only checks it once every 14 years, he feels best, and if he checks it every 14 seconds—watching all the inevitable fluctuations as they happen—he’s going to have a rollercoaster of anxiety and end up feeling the worst.

      on one hand, nostalgia is an affliction, and on the other hand, so is [probably] the idea that culture needs to be “mass culture.”

  2. Anonymous

      flowers in the fist

  3. Ken Baumann

      Thanks, Mike. Yeah: glad I’ve found another in the stew.

      The general lesson seems to be that humans get stupid fast with only a moderate amount of information. A hard lesson to learn, too, because all the exceptions to the rule are the visible ones.

  4. Khakjaan Wessington

      Your essay moved into an area of interest for me: organizations as AIs. There’s too much personification and fixation when analyzing complex systems. Anyhow, you’re just expressing a modern mutation of pastoralism: you will never be an isolated individual for long. Hermits were tough people. Fact is, without a social structure, you’d be dead in a few months. A tribe is just a primitive AI, and this… Mammon we have, is just a more complicated system of AIs. Popper’s basically a romantic. The induction side of the deduction/induction dualism.

      I’m a fan of Popper, but his body of work is just a tool. The way you defer to him as expert is the same way employees defer to the boss or citizen to uniform: it is an abdication of your own ability to analyze, in exchange for someone/thing to idolize. We’re just little nodes; Action Theory is frighteningly clear on that point (also complements the bulk of Popper’s work really well). No single individual can do anything other than act & induce others into cooperative action. Transforming individual consciousness sounds nice, but most people just copy one of the (often) two poles of persuasive action. That’s why the jackasses need us–someone to fill up their empty heads with myth and purpose.

  5. Khakjaan Wessington

      Yeah, but that’s a scam perpetuated by fund managers (who pays for these studies?) to get you to stay vested so they can keep collecting account fees. Do you really think everybody who just closed their eyes from 2007-2009 is happier now that retirement is a decade farther away? Beware economists, even me.

  6. deadgod

      If the ‘choice’ has to be: either “just one great book” or “a bunch of good ones”, well, then write the great one.

      But those ~100,000 novelists, and the ones who will be in the ~100,000 in other years but not in this one – those people would probably have been doing things more damaging to the environment, to other people, and to themselves if they hadn’t been writing scarcely-read books.

      So g’ahead: write and edit carefully-but-not-suffocatingly a bunch of books.

  7. Jeremiah

      Really enjoyed this, especially how the form is an extension of the content. Nice.

      An interesting aspect to think about is how much the various flora / fauna is in competition for the same market As you mentioned, the AWP book fair is a great example of over saturation — I’ve been to two and I quickly realized that although there is much diversity, the sheer volume of the small press offerings makes it easy to feel “exhausted, overwhelmed, underwhelmed” just like “after processing a big chunk of social information.”

      In this context I understand the need for constant output to maintain attention, but it’s increasingly important to, as deadgod puts so well, “write and edit carefully-but-not-suffocatingly a bunch of books.” Most writers/small press publishers I know are not financially dependent on their poetry/fiction writing (at least not in my small clan) so why not write / publish less yet higher quality books? (not saying what’s out there is all crap, but you know)

      For me, a solution to keep me from burning out is working on creating an audience for poetry with-in my non-writing friends, finding small press books that would appeal to them and getting them interested is challenging and makes me less obsessed with checking my account every 14 seconds.

      [Upon reading this, I’m not sure I’m even adding a good comment, let alone a great one. Huh.]

  8. bobby alter

      has anyone ever asked you before why you use bold all the time

  9. bobby alter

      just curious

  10. bobby alter

      just curious

  11. Mike Young

      thinking out loud: or maybe we should keep taking advantage of all this [historically] cheap printing technology and democratization of publishing and keep publishing an overwhelming number of books but try to change the tone/content of the social information. just thinking about this thread, i realize it’s easy for me to get sucked into a model where if i’m selling lots of books, i’m doing a good job. if i’m proliferating the books i publish, scattering that proverbial seed, then i’m doing a good job. and i do value the idea of getting more readers because i sort of think my ideal target reader is some stranger who i’ve never met, who the author’s never met, who’s found the author’s book through some more interesting means than mere social coincidence.

      but at the same time, i don’t always stay in contact with the people i sell the books to. i don’t do enough to “build relationships” between them and the author. why do i spend all my time thinking the goal is to get 10 more readers/”customers” instead of having meaningful conversations with the 10 i do have, like the way i talk about books i like with my friends over food or whiskey or pot or whatever. maybe if we’re [and by “we” i mean “me”; i just always tend to assume everyone else is more sincere and considerate and thoughtful than i am] serious about all the ethics behind this hunky-dory small press stuff, we can do more to make the social noise less about flashing invitations at people and more about taking care of the guests we already have? not that i’m sure what that means, but this post has given me the idea to try to start something that directly connects readers with each other and with the author in an interesting, non-awkward, non-intrusive way. what’s more it makes me realize that that’s kind of inherently my responsibility as a “publisher,” someone in the traffic of what’s “public,” and not just some dude who sells books i really like

      i dunno, part of me feels like that last paragraph was really stupid and everyone already knows this and i’m way behind. ha!

  12. Mike Young

      well, i think the analogy works better if you abstract it from a strictly economic context and think about it in terms of, say, “success.” the idea of checking every 14 seconds whether your success is growing versus more intermittent (and hopefully more meaningful, if for no other reason than the amount of time you have to spend) reflection.

  13. Anonymous

      I think it’s for emphasis.

  14. MLillie

      A supermarket seems a boon for consumers and the variegated food species alike. After all, if we (life) must be curious, must seek Out, why not bring it all In? The greater choice will surely implies greater freedom, and greater freedom induces good health and happiness. And now: Books? Amazon! Clothes? Amazon! Fun? Amazon! Food? Amazon!

      It’s all in one place if you want to get it there, and the life-easing convenience is salivating, so attractive we forget that “want” became “need” somewhere along the line. We rarely stop to think: whose life is this easing? Mine? Yours? What about all of ours, our cultures’, our planet’s? I’m glad you did. Stop.

      I’m not sure you’re completely correct that the volume of information is what should be directly questioned. If you rewind 2,000 years, humans in the Amazon – where the biodiversity of “information” is much higher – were no less integrated into their ecosystems than humans in the Arctic. I think it’s more to do with the availability of information that truly ails us (collectively). When networks become “megaindustrialized/meganetworked,” it no longer matters if there are two or five or two hundred billion user-neurons in the network, what matters is they’re rubbing shoulders with you, stealing your light away, pushing you down. Truth: the more user-neurons you’ve got, randomly distributed, the more likely they’ll crowd you out. But when it comes down to it, its about availability of information – really that term’s terrible, and “critical proximity” would be better for the whole cheesy plants-struggling-for-light metaphor.

      You’re right to fear for (allude to? lead me to believe in?) Malthusian catastrophes’ intrusion into modern culture – “populations” can be biological or more theoretical when dealing with such shit-talking monkeys like ourselves. You’re mediating your data consumption but the data’s still there, waiting for some other cultural predator to devour it and move a click higher on the culture machine food chain. We’re so integrated and addicted to this information that what we’re facing is a tragedy of the commons of information. If you drop too far out of the culture universe, you will cease to be you (i.e. cycle back into the ecosystem, lose ego; i.e. not necessarily a bad thing) and may well lose your edge, your press, your voice; someone even Taoer than Tao will fill in the ranks.

      You’ll never lose it all – the structure – though I’m contemplating these two options myself: you can keep your distance and know where you stand, pressing back against the masses with conversation etc; or write your one great book, your The Enemies, a hermit, unrecognized possibly ad infinatum, at least until your own body’s end. At this point nothing will care and you will seem to join something you’d already been a part of.

  15. Anonymous


  16. lily hoang

      I screamed “Yes!” over & over again while reading your next to last paragraph. I screamed “Yes!” at least once during each paragraph. Thank you, Ken. This is fantastic.

  17. Harry Giles

      Your metaphor, I think, rather breaks down as you’re currently putting it; your concept of excessive publishing as “pollution” of a small-scale literary ecology (I simplify, I know) doesn’t have a great deal to do with the way ecosystems actually function.

      > What I love about the small/independent press environment:
      > you get diversity, varied flora and fauna, and you get it small.
      > It’s connected to a person most of the time. It’s not abstract,
      > it’s not layered away. The supply chain is very short.

      This may be analogous to certain small ecosystems, but it doesn’t look anything like a rainforest, a desert, or the global ecology as a whole. Most ecosystems are huge, intensely interconnected, with enormous and significant processes on which everything depends — like rainfall cycles — and crucial small-scale actors which affect the whole network — like bees –. The contemporary environmental fetishisation of the small-scale and local — which is appearing, to a certain extent, in your post — simply doesn’t apply to global ecology: you can’t save the planet just by “acting locally” or thinking that “small is beautiful”. Ocean currents are bloody massive.

      An ecosystem is a network of relationships and dependencies every bit as complex as a late capitalist system — and any ecosystem depends on other ecosystems and on global processes every bit as much as a city depends on a globalised world. Ecology is probably much more complex than capitalism, in fact. Now, I don’t mean to reverse the metaphorical direction of causality — just because your analogy is dodgy doesn’t mean that your ideas about literary culture are — but there are things to think about here which may be more productive:

      What are the ocean currents of literature, and what is its atmosphere? (What are the huge global processes affected by the outputs of every local ecosystem.) What is a literary invasive species? (What literary work, on its arrival in a local literary scene, totally dominates it and wipes out local literary diversity?)

      > Aggressively selling books sucks, but presenting them
      > as flowers and letting the occasional roamer smell one
      > and maybe pick it: that was good. That felt natural.

      Also, ecosystems (and the evolutionary processes which produce balanced, sustainable ecosystems) depend on predators. There’s nothing uniquely virtuous about being a flower. Failure is requires for species’ fitness to increase, and if there aren’t predators keeping populations under control, other species can grow so dominant they threaten ecosystem stability and biodiversity. Here in Scotland, the fact that we’ve killed off all the wolves means that wild deer wreak havoc on the Highland ecosystem: they eat all the damn plants. But if the deer were gone, I’m sure certain plants would force out all the others People may prefer the company of deer to the company of wolves, but they’d better put up with a few wolves if they want diversity.

      What is the literary analogy here? Is there one? Am I saying that we should allow there to be a few dominant species in the literary ecosystem, as long as they’re kept in check by resource scarcity? I don’t know. I’m not saying anything in particular, other than: there’s a lot more to ecology than you seem to be currently exploring, and if you want to pursue your thinking in these areas further, I’d suggest either ditching the metaphor or exploring it more deeply.

      P.S. Ecology and environmentalism are different beasts. Ecology is about understanding how ecosystems — the original complex networks — function, and how we can maintain their complexity and diversity. Environmentalism tends to be much more anthropomorphic, and to be more focussed on human control and maintenance of the environment (which does, more laudably, involve reducing pollution, &c.) I’d say you’re a bit guilty of an anthropomorphic environmentalism in your post — which is to say, in your thinking about literature you’re maybe overextending your own aesthetic preferences, rather than analysing the complex network as a whole.

  18. Anonymous

      Reading this, and loving this, I found myself thinking of something Kenny Goldsmith wrote about Conceptual Poetics:

      Language as material, language as process, language as something to be shoveled into a machine and spread across pages, only to be discarded and recycled once again. Language as junk, language as detritus. Nutritionless language, meaningless language, unloved language, entartete sprache, everyday speech, illegibility, unreadability, machinistic repetition. Obsessive archiving & cataloging, the debased language of media & advertising; language more concerned with quantity than quality. How much did you say that paragraph weighed?

      I like your approach better. It makes Goldsmith seem like a litterbug.

  19. Joseph Young

      as someone else said, there are feints of pastoralism here, The world is too much with us; late and soon. that’s good though because it offers a nice corrective. still though, who chooses which people in the world get cars and cell phones and who chooses great books vs. good ones? the argument about ‘art noise’ often strikes me this way: the stuff i really like is ok and the other is the noise. that’s not what you say here, you talk about personal responsibility, but isn’t that the result, sort of, anyway? making words and other stuff keeps me in touch with something and i can only assume it does for other people too.

  20. Owen K.

      I think that if it’s a question of overload vs. deficiency, I’ll take the overload. I imagine there are, statistically speaking, not very many people who can say they’ve attained the horrific state of artistic overload . . . while, in contrast, the vast majority of our population is culturally deficient. It’s not an excess of available material that’s out there which is the cause for this, but rather the way that it’s organized.

      That said, I also want to point out that, as far as this remains a loose metaphor, it’s easier to thrive in a jungle than in a sandy wasteland, and jungles also encourage variety.

  21. Ken Baumann

      Thanks for this response.

      I live in Los Angeles, a monstrous urban center, and I love it here. I probably wasn’t clear enough in the post–as it’s definitely a thinking through, not a presentation–but I don’t desire country life. For the most part. And I know that without social structure it’d very difficult to last long. Even still: I don’t think you can fairly say I’m in deference to Popper, here.

      And, yeah, existence before essence, of course. But to level the foundation to bumper cars with occasional straits of magnetism… Okay. Nodes, yes. And?

      I appreciate your stress of Action, and I don’t disagree. Nor, if I had to guess, would Popper, re: his work as a tool. I think he’s a agent in a self-mending institution. We all are. I just find it’s easy to forget what heals and what rips.

  22. Ken Baumann

      I thought you’d give me more credit with handling the implicit in this post, and in Gian’s notion. Apparently not.

      It’s more likely: present-to-be-published. Not write. Share.

  23. Ken Baumann

      I like it. This is Richard Nash’s thinking. Very curious to see how he facilitates the writer-reader connection with Cursor, his new thing, which is going to be all about that supposedly.

      At the same time: I think it’s still nice, as an author, to have the choice of operating behind a veil. Or trying to, at least. I think it’s the author’s choice/responsibility to make him/herself open to public inquiry. But your thinking on building on existing relationships is right on.

  24. Ken Baumann

      I like it. This is Richard Nash’s thinking. Very curious to see how he facilitates the writer-reader connection with Cursor, his new thing, which is going to be all about that supposedly.

      At the same time: I think it’s still nice, as an author, to have the choice of operating behind a veil. Or trying to, at least. I think it’s the author’s choice/responsibility to make him/herself open to public inquiry. But your thinking on building on existing relationships is right on.

  25. Ken Baumann

      I like it. This is Richard Nash’s thinking. Very curious to see how he facilitates the writer-reader connection with Cursor, his new thing, which is going to be all about that supposedly.

      At the same time: I think it’s still nice, as an author, to have the choice of operating behind a veil. Or trying to, at least. I think it’s the author’s choice/responsibility to make him/herself open to public inquiry. But your thinking on building on existing relationships is right on.

  26. Ken Baumann

      I like it. This is Richard Nash’s thinking. Very curious to see how he facilitates the writer-reader connection with Cursor, his new thing, which is going to be all about that supposedly.

      At the same time: I think it’s still nice, as an author, to have the choice of operating behind a veil. Or trying to, at least. I think it’s the author’s choice/responsibility to make him/herself open to public inquiry. But your thinking on building on existing relationships is right on.

  27. Ken Baumann

      Your Amazon example makes me think: I don’t know if I agree. Hard to calculate, obviously. But, regardless of the volumes: the belief systems to sort, stow, and discard info have radically changed. In the Amazon: caution is king, for the most part. And it’s all bestowed, created, laid before you. Easier to organize. Now: go stare at a Walmart. With just a little prodding, you can get sucked into the web of tracing and tracking the social, political, ecological, economic, architectural, cultural ramifications, implications, direct connections through labor and agency, etc. I’d say that this new complexity is more voluminous and difficult for the brain which was built for those circumstances two million years ago.

      And your two choices at the end there, well, shoot. I say that’s simplistic. Altho I agree in that: yes, we can’t drop out completely. And I hope that I never advocate or practice that. So consider the post as a sort of primer to get myself in the realm of critical thought. I think people forget how vital those primers are for most.

  28. Ken Baumann

      It’s hard to not play into what I like, of course. And I agree: the making makes mindfulness, or it can; I’ve seen plenty of examples that seem to me farting in public for entertainment. I know that I do question both my making, and what is done with the made thing, and this post comes from that concern/awareness.

  29. Ken Baumann

      I don’t think it’s either/or. A body can survive without surplus. Surplus, especially surplus that can store (agriculture) is pretty new for humans, and has lead to a lot of harm and abuses of power. As with the newer surplus of information. That’s one thing I’m trying not to forget. The question of culture is even newer and worth looking at.

  30. Ken Baumann

      Hey Harry. Thanks for this.

      First: it’s not ‘saving the planet’, which is the mistaken usage of most ‘environmentalist’ groups; it’s my desire to do less harm. More acutely: not hinder the ability of the environment to thrive and naturally self-generate, as it has for the past sixty million years. I think it’s implicit that we, as a species, will last longer as a side-effect.

      Those questions you posed are seemingly scientific, but I question their utility as thinking that leads to ethical concern. I’m more interested in ethics inherent in culture than finding laws of culture.

      Yes to your emphasis on adaptive checks and balances. I think there are enough dominant forces in cultural energy (attention) that serve as functional predators.

      I plan on exploring more deeply, as promised from the subject line.

  31. Ditrapano

      “Tweet, tweet.”

      (Good stuff, Kenny B.)

  32. Ken Baumann

      This is losing the general for the particular.

  33. Khakjaan Wessington

      Yeah, I saw that point, but I’m a slave to my peeves & had to register discontent.

  34. Khakjaan Wessington

      Yeah, I saw that point, but I’m a slave to my peeves & had to register discontent.

  35. Khakjaan Wessington

      Probably. Don’t want you to get the wrong idea, I really enjoyed your essay.

  36. Khakjaan Wessington

      Probably. Don’t want you to get the wrong idea, I really enjoyed your essay.

  37. deadgod

      Well, the response wasn’t meant to be a deduction of “credit”, nor under the assumption that you were considering taking Gian’s ‘message’ literally.

      That dilemma was simply an occasion for a (digressive?) reaction to the unreadably populous mountain of books you refer to, a counterblast to the “weariness” of the Preacher (Eccl. 12:8-12).

      To repeat: if quality is something that one can ‘know’ before the effort, ambition should be a major criterion for deciding whether to exert. Since it can’t, . . .

      And (I think we agree), if one writes, “share”. For example: Beckett, who privileges silence, but who shares that priority by writing it diligently, generously.

  38. Ken Baumann

      I enjoy your responses! Happy to have your contributions to the conversation.

  39. deadgod

      I’ve been both asked about and scolded for

      it’s punctuation; not semantically as much of a discloser as most words themselves are, but in their category (‘sign’)

      so hard to tell “why” in some particular case??

  40. Khakjaan Wessington

      But you never engage Walmart or Amazon by yourself. You had a whole desire-industry that brought you to the point of purchase.

      I think modern people are too impressed with our complex systems. Memorization is important for information, right? Oral formulaic poetry probably existed before written language–so how is it we’re not ready? People are lazy, that’s all.

      Also, the neurobiological angle really rankles me. Language, symbol and metaphor are the zip-files for memory; better methodology taxes the ‘brain’ less. Bad code in a powerful processor still leads to bad results.

      I mean, if there are really 100k English language books published each year, and a good bibliophile can churn through a book every other day, that means one only needs about 555 editors/tastemakers to churn through them. And then there are the aggregaters of the aggregaters: so then it just becomes an issue of whose judgment/taste you prefer.

      In short, the ‘brain’ might not be able to handle the info, but this superorganism/AI sure can. And we live in an era of systems engineering, so if anything, I’m optimistic that secret, quality writing can rise to the surface.

      Of course, some motherfuckers need to get over their bias against blogs & personal websites, but that has little to do with information theory.

  41. alan

      I appreciate some of the concerns here, but the remedies proposed sound a lot worse than what they’re meant to solve.

      It seems obvious to me that you can’t do anything about this stuff as long as production is run for individual profit. Once you take the means of production out of private hands and put it in the service of humanity as whole you at least have the basis for apportioning resources in a humane and rational way. But this will necessarily entail centralized planning on an international scale, and that will be a very good thing. It’s not planning and cooperation that make capitalism such a nightmare, it’s the anarchy of the market.

  42. Khakjaan Wessington

      Just because you don’t see a pattern, doesn’t mean there isn’t one.

  43. Khakjaan Wessington

      Just because you don’t see a pattern, doesn’t mean there isn’t one.

  44. Mike Young

      yeah, i agree that mystery should be at the author’s discretion. but tangential to authors, another part of the opportunity is the readers talking with other readers. making part of the publication act enabling that instead of just dropping books into peoples’ hands and saying “have fun.” seems like the numbers are so small in our game that such a thing would be really feasible.

  45. Ken Baumann

      I’m just properly starting into Marx. Concurrently: have you read the 2nd volume of The Open Society and Its Enemies? The Marx/Hegel volume. I haven’t yet, but am curious.

      Preface: pardon my very tenuous grip: As much as I love the idea of communism, the communism that has never been executed before, I think it’s unlikely we’ll get there, through fire or sunshine. Fatalist, finally, I guess. I do believe in a human nature in average, though; until we can permanently modify our neurological wiring to err on the side of charity, I’m guessing it won’t happen.

  46. mark leidner

      driving in silence is the shit. so is walking in silence. silence is the fountain of sense, etc.

      enjoyed listening to this while i was cooking through a text to voice program. it was not very silent but it will be as soon as i post this comment

      my favorite part was when you talked about going from novel, to short film script, to feature film script. i wish there was a conceptual camera filming your decisions as you translated whatever it was from form to form to form, speaking of curiosity

      essays like this that have so many ideas and issues threaded through them are really hard to comment on. you want to say something comprehensively but there’s too many threads, so i’ll just say that i listened

  47. Ken Baumann

      Definitely. I feel like this site itself is good at that, too. But the idea of book/author specific conversation/forum is nice. Although it makes me wonder if it’s just a containing, narrower-than-it-needs-to-be focus that exists as an ‘opportunity’ mainly because publishers/brands want it to be. Hmm. Part of me says: If people want to talk about something, they’ll find each other and do just that, regardless of the medium. Again: look where we are. Really good to think about… thinking… thinking… :)

  48. Whatisinevidence

      There was bolanobolano.com, but it ran out of steam and the forum died.

  49. Khakjaan Wessington

      That’s a myth. Communism has been executed, and executes to this day.

  50. mjm

      Welcome to the Dome of Reason, Ken Baumann.

  51. alan

      You, above: “That’s why the jackasses need us–someone to fill up their empty heads with myth and purpose.”

      Ok, I see where you’re coming from.

  52. alan

      Hey, Ken. Rosa Luxembourg used to say humanity faced a choice between socialism and barbarism. It’s interesting that now that socialism is supposedly dead, some people are openly taking up the banner of barbarism. Weird that abolishing private property seems utopian while a reversion to hunting and gathering seems like a realistic and desirable option, but that’s the period we’re in. It reflects the current (very low) level of class struggle. That is going to change, and with it people’s consciousness.

      Before reading Popper on Marxism I would recommend looking at the real stuff: the Communist Manifesto, Socialism: Scientific and Utopian, State and Revolution, The Revolution Betrayed.

      The problem with the human nature argument is that you can say that about anything, right? One hundred and fifty years ago it was considered natural in this country to own people, and for certain people to be owned. Karl Marx said that “all history is precisely a continuous transformation of human nature.”

      (Btw, I liked your “minuses” line.)

  53. Khakjaan Wessington

      Don’t be presumptuous. You have no clue where I’m coming from–only an inkling, based off the context of a very specific conversation.

      Reductionist. Seriously, how many executed communist relatives do you have? You and your fucking knowing tone.

  54. Khakjaan Wessington

      College commie? How trendy!

  55. Ken Baumann

      I can vouch for alan being civil, so I hope you don’t take too much offense, and vice versa. I enjoy the meeting of brains. Let me know if I can help moderate in any way. But, just from both of your contributions to this conversation, I’m confident in both of you to keep it going and not say anything hurtful.

  56. Ken Baumann

      I admit a big deficit in the history and application of the idea. I apologize for that.

  57. Ken Baumann

      I’ve read the Communist Manifesto, which I think is powerful prose; after finishing, I thought ‘this wouldn’t have been such an influential set of thinking if it wasn’t for the emotional and lucid quality of the writing.’ I’m going to read more.

      Have you read Chapter 9 in The Open Society vol. 1 lately? Wow. Just finished it moments ago. Pretty convincing argument against the aesthetic appeal of radical societal reform and for the piecemeal social engineering that focuses on battling known causes of suffering, instead of trying to design and build an ideal (known) good.

      More precise than ‘human nature’ is ‘shared neurological structure’, or ‘shared biology.’ I’d say that the abuse of power that was American instituted slavery isn’t human nature at all; it’s merely an expression of our tendency to misuse power, which I feel is shared biology. (over the entire average)

      That Marx quote sounds right, but I’m tempted to ask for any empirical proof. Okay: I’m asking.

  58. Ken Baumann

      Hah! Thanks. Who knows where I am, but I’m glad this is provocative.

  59. Ken Baumann

      I love this comment. Thank you.

      Answering your email soon.

  60. Ken Baumann

      rather: not mean anything hurtful

  61. Anonymous

      internet fame, non viral:
      long tail self sustaining island micro communities of pow wow backpatting where everyone gets to be the emperor when their post is submitted but none of them have clothes and they all agree to ignore it so when it’s her turn they’ll get the same specious self serving praise that they give out

  62. deadgod

      that’s deep, xmkdz

      what do you think are the connections between a community and a person?

      what do you think are the connections between a community and the natural world?

      what are a person’s responsibilities? – and in what order of importance ought they to be?

      what is a person, xmkdz??

  63. zusya

      @ken – while i had a hard time following pretty much everything that came after your 3rd paragraph, the premise of an ‘ecology of art’ is a particularly fascinating one, and i’d say rather useful. but i’m not what it has to do with an ‘economy of art’?

      the formers seems to express more about where art comes from, its petri-dish, whereas with economy you’re talking about its value as a kind of business?

  64. alan

      “I’d say that the abuse of power that was American instituted slavery isn’t human nature at all; it’s merely an expression of our tendency to misuse power, which I feel is shared biology.”

      Well, since I don’t identify with the class enemy I would have to say it’s an expression of THEIR (the property-owning classes’) tendency to misuse power. By your logic I would then have to posit a tendency to be misused by power on the part of the slaves. If so, there would also have to be a counter-tendency to organize to resist the misuse of power as demonstrated by the Union army, including 20,000 black troops.

      Human biology didn’t change that much between 1861 and 1877 but American society was transformed by a second revolution, and now no one has the right to own another human being as chattel no matter what their tendencies. When private ownership of the means of production is abolished there will still be misuse of power but no one will have the opportunity to exploit other people’s labor (and control vast resources) for individual profit, whether they would like to to or not.

  65. Writing Jeremiahgould

      I think this conflict of seeding vs. nurturing is inherent in the niche we find ourselves – a number of readers who need (and often reject) hand holding, and more “readers” who often have no exposure to poetry and sometimes need to be “seduced” so-to-speak.

      In some ways, to continue with a analogy you made, it’s not enough to plant a seed. The end goal is not a seed in the ground, it’s a plant that yields something greater (fruit or sap or shade or even just aesthetic interest/beauty). There’s room for specialization in either, but you need the output and you need a way to nurture.

      Promoting a space/platform/forum for readers to interact is somewhat what sites like HTMLGIANT are, but the readership of Giant is still highly connected/informed.

      [thinking out loud myself] Publisher as peddling of the public. Publisher as Johnny Appleseed. Publisher as guide, publisher as consultant, publisher as cheerleader, publisher as cut-man for writers in between the “rounds” of putting out books (which can feel like a boxing match). Publisher as missionary. Who are our small press missionaries? is that needed?

  66. Ken Baumann

      ‘there will still be misuse of power but no one will have the opportunity to exploit other people’s labor (and control vast resources) for individual profit, whether they would like to to or not.’

      I hope the attitude toward information continues to shift into admiration for transparency, checks-and-balances, etc. What I fear is that any system can be conned.

      What are some writers that have posited practical models for the institutions that would exist after private ownership of the means of the production is abolished?

  67. Ken Baumann

      My use of ecology: how art is made, the energy required to make and consume it, and its relationship to other resources, energies.

      My use of economy: brevity, or conciseness, or Just Enough To Do The Job.

  68. alan

      I would say check out Marx’s “Civil War in France” (including Engels’s 1891 postscript), Lenin’s “State and Revolution,” and Trotsky’s “The Revolution Betrayed.” I usually hate to talk about this stuff on the Internet but this has been a cool exchange, thanks.

  69. MLillie

      I see what you mean re: simplified ecosystems. And Walmart ain’t long for this world, because artificial, energy-draining, rapidly growing systems usually ain’t. But I think scale must be considered, too. When the first human group wiggled their way through the Andes, down through the cloud forest and into the jungle (about 11,000 years ago), I think they were blown away. Neither them nor their distant relatives had ever encountered something so intimidating. The belief systems have changed, but in human history, 11,000 years is irrelevant. Our wiring, our emotions, our ability for thought and creativity are the same. Culture’s what’s changed.

      Which brings me around to the availability vs. volume argument again. In Walmart, everything has a purpose. How do you know? Flip it over. Easy instructions in your native tongue, pressing right up against your consciousness. Absolutely zero learning or effort required: just drop one in your toilet bowl and your whole house’ll be clean in minutes! In the Amazon there might even be more available products than in Walmart but you’ve got to work to make them, and work hard. You need to draw on tradition to know that the best way to eat yuca is to chew it, spit it out, wait a few days, and then mix it with water and drink it. The volume’s there, but it’s much less accessible.

      I would argue the Amazon’s impossible to organize: just ask scientists who are trying to catalogue plants, medicine, and insects there. They haven’t even finished digesting what indigenous people already know. For me, the development of ayahuasca – a medicine formed from two specific plants out of tens of thousands – outdoes even Walmart in complexity. And that’s just one example.

      My two choices were based on the original tweeted proposal (“Will you please write just one great book instead of a bunch of good ones, please?”). While we can never drop out completely, I’m seriously weighing my options for dropping out 95%. Can critical thought breed critical action?

  70. NLY

      Several of the principles in this post remind me of a strange little book entitled The Black Swan, by Nassim Taleb, as it works through notions of “Robustness” and “Fragility” in relation to modes and manifestations of culture.

  71. Ken Baumann

      I’m big on that book, and still working through its ideas (obviously).

  72. MLillie

      …and that point of purchase is getting closer and closer to your eyeballs, to your bed, to your childrens’ cribs. How can we relax, process, and enjoy when there’s no room? Can we teach the superorganism to clear space for us, to set our boundaries for us?

  73. Khakjaan Wessington

      Fair enough. Sorry for the cranky tone. Shame I can’t figure out how to power my car with all that bile.

  74. Khakjaan Wessington

      This is one of the main topics in my writing… and I don’t think so. At least not the AIs we have right now. Given some time, perhaps it will change, but as it stands right now, each of us hosts several AIs and none of them seem to have much interest in our well being in mind.

      I’m waiting for the day the crowd talks to the individual; that will be alarming. I don’t know why people are in denial anyhow; even the smallest office can pass the Turing test.

      I could spent 10k words answering your question, but I don’t have the time for that right now. Would it be the RIGHT answer? I think so, but who knows?

  75. Khakjaan Wessington

      2 out of 4 of my grandparents were Communists in places where it was extremely dangerous to be one. 1 of them was a National Socialist. Might not be genetic, but sure seems memetic.

  76. Anonymous

      i like some things on this site
      but i feel sad for the people wrapped up in the game
      and i feel better about not getting involved when i see this stuff
      kind of like “reading as a comfort”

      i feel bad for the micro presses, mini mags, etc for exactly the same reason. christ i just feel bad for all of you.

  77. MM

      √ an irony it is, reading a long lament about literary phlegm & its contagion, wagged with prattling comments!

      √√ at first i thought i thought this ten years thence, then started squirming, Lily-like, learning you too share my recent turnoff tendency, aiming instead for mindfulness.

      √√√ Ye HG smarties tacitly shrink and irk me, having scarcely read and struggling to, yet it matters not: beyond Mister Minor it’s otherwise impossible! Give up and follow your prosody-nose.

      √√√√ Profusion-pollution: I accept its ceaselessness if it is:{comedic, the-kindly-kind-of-inflammatory, guru-encouragement-homework-assignment, pro-otherness-thus-various, pepped-didactics}. more,more,more of all of this, but cork the rest of the fraying ephemeral rah,rah,rah!

  78. zusya

      i see. do you see the two as related? or interconnected?

  79. genomicsnews.org


      On Ecology and Art | HTMLGIANT