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Re: <nettime> After Babelfish
t byfield on 28 Sep 2000 07:01:44 -0000


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Re: <nettime> After Babelfish


julian {AT} mostly.com (Mon 09/25/00 at 05:05 PM -0500):

> Consider Fallen's estimation of his own products' capabilities as literary
> machines. Given the right kind of source text, he says -- a simply and
> precisely written technical manual, for instance -- a Systran product
> loaded with the appropriately specialized vocabulary can spit out
> translations of up to ninety-nine percent accuracy. But anything as
> open-ended as a news report remains a challenge, and never mind more
> nuanced texts. "If you take Shakespeare and put it into the product as you
> take it out of the box, you're going to get garbage," says Fallen. "You're
> going to get twenty-five or thirty percent, or you're going to get some
> sort of word analysis that is going to have little to do with the prose
> and the elegance, et cetera, of what Shakespeare is all about."

GIGO, basically: garbage in, garbage out.

the problem, of course, is that from a cybernetic standpoint, the 
singularities of culture--those expressions in which the density 
of references and correlations reaches its zenith (we see this 
arguable idealism in joyce, goethe, dolce & gabana, gaddis, eco, 
take your pick or add your own)--are retrospectively rendered as 
Garbage for their failure to conform to the categorical dictates 
of Content: a smooth flux that flows through procedural avenues,
lest it end up in the wrong inbox, that is, of the supervisor.

but even the linguistic continuity of the word 'continuity' dis-
guises a transformation that's very hard to pin down, but just
as surely is the nagging source of the revisionist insistence on 
reconstructing the universe and everything ever in it in terms of 
'markets': a powerful analytical tool, to be sure, but one that
(again) tends to privilege categories and classes of goods and 
services over specificities. i suspect that's why phenomena like
ebay are so successful and so interesting: they signal a double
realization: first, that this newfound but old Garbage itself 
constitutes a class of goods; second, that the sphere of produc-
tion is retooling such that the supply of Garbage will dwindle 
and, therefore, the demand must grow relative to it. if, of the
pair supply and demand, one falls into stasis, the other ends up
compensating with frenetic behavior. it's an immanent logic that
serves to validate the system as a whole by rectifying any mal-
distribution of 'the system itself'--structured flux.

that's not to say that there's no continuity, of course there's
some. but, again, it's hard to pin down. structuralism (as in
lÚvi-strauss et al.) was an analytical system that insisted on
finding forms of 'order' that both scaled well and were omni-
present--in the narrative of a myth, in botanical categories,
in the layout of a village, in the tattoos on a face. decades 
later we saw prigogine, gleick, delanda, kelly, and so on find 
the 'natural' analog of structuralism's cultural mappings. the
curious combination of an intimate fascination with specificity
and a total disregard for it evident in the mania to find it
*everywhere* is just as much a prehistory of cyberneticism as,
say, the rogues' gallery that barbrook made such hay about in
his 'californian ideology'--which itself fell prey to the same
if-all-you've-got-is-a-hammer-then-all-the-world-looks-like-
a-nail dynamic. the thing these all have in common, i think, is 
their context: the disnintegration of the foundational subject 
of our inherited discourse of Man. so now we're stuck with the 
same old damn problem of mimesis--it's too ingrained to be rid
of, or even to decide if it's 'natural' or 'cultural'--but we 
don't know what we're supposed to imitate anymore. and since
there's a scarce supply of subjects, we compensate by whipping
up the demand for them by constructing new forms of demand--
processes, methodologies, transformations--which have to be
general because we're not really sure what'll end up flowing
through them. but as a pal's grandfather used to say, 'that's
ok too.' Man may be the subject of history, but He isn't the
subject of time, and, as far as anyone, knows we've got oodles
of that.

cheers,
t
-

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