Radis, Germinal, 228; Animate gynoids and broken keys

Thanks to Crystal for reminding me that the French Republican calendar twitter account (from where I purchased my calendar - the humorously named @sansculotides) tweet the day and associated flora each day so it's a good way of reverse-engineering the date. Today we celebrate the radish. Today we do not celebrate two weeks of the left-hand shift, alt and control keys not working on my keyboard. This is definitely a software problem which might be solved by resetting the SMC if that didn't require exactly those keys. I've run through all the hardware and software fixes I can find without doing that. Basically the only thing left to me now is to factory reset the computer and hope it fixes it, the battery also now lasts about two hours, when video calling, about half an hour and these are not great batteries to replace. So this is all a great time to move everything online.

I've clung on to this 2015 Macbook Pro since I got it (I don't own it, it's a university computer) and have resisted having it replaced, not only for environmental reasons but I genuinely believe late 2015 was the beginning of the end for Apple's generous approach to designing things. The very last vestige of an assumption of a broad constituency of users and uses needing some individual adaptability for multi-purposing. It has usable sockets; USB sockets I use constantly, an SD card slot I admittedly use only occasionally and an HDMI socket I use everyday. I can open up the back and replace the RAM and drive. If this thing is for the knackers yard then I guess it's either finding a refurbed 2015 I can upgrade myself or a PC. I've always liked the design of Thinkpads, but the issues around booting Mac OS on them seems more trouble than it's worth. Long live the late 2015 Macbook Pro and iPhone 5s, the last of Apple's good designs.

Enough prevaricating (one more - remember when new technology was actually exciting, rather than just vaguely disappointing? When we looked at new releases and went 'wow, that's so clever!' rather than 'why have they done that, that's annoying.' Remember when apps were fun? Ugh.) With the caveat to the enormous privilege I have. I've been finding the lockdown remarkably productive. I wake up at the same time everyday, I'm drinking a lot less, I sleep a lot better, I eat a lot better, I'm getting more done. There was always a kind of nascent guilt in getting home after work and just not feeling up to putting in more time on my own research and practice but now I feel more energised. So, what have I been up to with that energy? Looking at words.


I've been reading a bunch of things related to the PhD which have all been useful but some highlights here:

Lev Manovich's What is Digital Cinema? essay from the late nineties in which he writes that the encroachment of (at the time) manual computational techniques like CGI have made (or even possibly returned) cinema to a 'sub-genre of painting'. He argues that we find a kind of resting state of image production in human culture not in attempting to capture photorealism but in creating irreal visions and fantasy through the human hand. He suggests that the modernist drive for photorealism is a blip in this history and CGI and computational animation techniques offer a return to the potential of human imagination and away from the ‘indexical media technology’ of lens-based image capture. I like this idea a lot as in my writing it’s something I’ve struggled to find a viewpoint on; how to contextualise social media, propaganda, cinema, digital art and video games as a single site for designerly enquiry. Rooting them all in some fundamental process of envisioning or fantasising through image production might be a useful stance. Perhaps it’s useful to suggest that they’re all a genre of painting? It’s a quite a teleological, technical view but it’s neat. I like it when things are neat.

I chunked through the Animatic Apparatus by Deborah Levitt, recommended by Joel McKim. Levitt agrees with Manovich's notion that 'animation' as she calls it is the more fundamental form of human artifice, rather than capturing reality. By 'animation' she is not just referring to visual representation but the ways that human make other things animate. She draws extensively on theories around artificial life, from marionettes to gynoids and AI and aesthetic theories of beauty; this is super interesting strategically. In the way I interpreted it, she's trying to do the opposite of just about every other single thing in this area; rather than refining and treading over and over the Uncanny Valley as countless others do to try and pin down where 'animatic' forms become upsetting or alienating, she (again, my interpretation) is trying to define where things fall outside of it and attain beauty, their qualities and why we are drawn to them. This is a more theory-laden take on Alan Warburton's excellent work in this area.

Levitt uses the gynoid dolls from Ghost In The Shell; Innocence as a standing example throughout the text. In fact, a majority of the book is a very thorough analysis of the film, a long-time favourite of mine. I had no idea how many advanced references and complex intertextuality were in it before. In her interpretation, Innocence provides a way of seeing the 'animatic apparatus' as an aspiration for humans rather than the usual representation of animatic forms where they aspire to become human. She contrasts Innocence favourably to Spielberg's A.I. and its Pinnochio story in this regard. The characters in Innocence take cyborgs (in this case advanced, technical ones, I had no idea Donna Haraway was in Innocence, did you?) on their terms; as a kind of being in their own right. She uses some interesting theories on 'vitality forms' – the way that types of movements are precursors to the categorisation of emotions in the minds of infants – to develop this point. Similar, to Manovich, the message is kind of the same; consistently trying to create reality using these tools (the 'apparatus' including social tendencies) is to underestimate the potential of them.

I also finally cracked the spine on Mark Fisher's Ghosts of My Life since I'm apparently the only person that's never read it. The first chapter was great for my PhD, lots of great theory on how we relate to the future without name dropping philosophers, just some thoughtful insights. I read about half of it this week and did find it incredibly moving. His reflections on culture, music and himself are deep and meaningful and I get why everyone recommends it but it's the music bit I struggle with and knew I would. In lieu of philosophical references I'll never understand, it's riddled with musical references I've never heard of. I had to stop every few paragraphs to bring up a track or artist he was referencing. I think you need to be really into music to immerse yourself in it, or of his generation. Maybe someone's already made a playlist you can listen along to as you read?

Yesterday I picked up Mark Hansen's Feed Forward, read three pages and gave up. There's only so much media theory bogged in inaccessible philosophy I can take and I got bored and wondered off.

Anyway, today I'm DIY-ing the home office. Since we moved in last summer it's basically been the room where everything that has nowhere else to go lives. we were putting off doing it until this summer. But now, since I'm going to be in there everyday for the next however-many-months I've decided to make it presentable and a bit more usable. So, got some shelving and some paint and away we go.

Love you, bye. x