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Tag: Analog

2666 - Roberto Bolaño, FSG 2008 Cover Design by Charlotte Strick (HESO Magazine)

Lost Analogs A Critique of Global Capitalism in Roberto Bolaño’s 2666

“This is increasingly emerging as the central human right of advanced capitalist society: the right not to be ‘harassed’, that is, to be kept at a safe distance from others.”

— Slavoj Žižek, Against Human Rights


We can thank people like Bob Moog for his eponymous synthesizers, Tsutomu Katoh for his Korg brand of musical instruments, Gershon Kingsley for his musicianship, and all of them collectively for introducing our common musical associations with the term “analog” into our everyday vocabulary. When the word comes up, we can bring to mind music that is the soundtrack to an antique electronic future—one that rushed into our sensorium with the advent of the telephone, but whose sheen is still undiminished after all these years.

This musical context of the term refers to the production of media that is directly analogous to another condition or occurrence in the natural world, in this case the shaped production of a noise through the controlled interaction of electricity and set circuit paths. Digital technology differs from analog because it does not posses the same direct reversibility to an original set of conditions. Unlike analog, it is not traceable back to a necessary original condition. It exists without a negative. No matter how we may program digital to function in lieu of analog in our cameras, musical instruments, and tape machines, the important precondition necessary for digital

to function is only the identification of a need, even if that need is eventually not decided on by present actors but derived from the framework of the system itself.

Digital came to prominence because it was able to quickly and portably fill the needs formerly met and defined by analog technology. As such, it has become the go-to form of production and recording. A seamless integration of multi-track recording and electronic production on the home computer has been worked into almost every dilettante’s life, alongside going to the gym for mandated maintenance of the corpus and sending graphomaniacal solipsisms to one’s Twitter feed. The blueprint provided by the analog forebears to digital is now less necessary for the unique abilities of digital to shine in their own right. Enabling digital technology to organize and emulate our material lives has increased our insincerity regarding the conscionable 1:1 avowal of our actions and the outcomes of those actions. It is for this reason that the debate between the analog and the digital is a political debate more than a simple aesthetic debate. Digital encompasses the ability to propose a new, total, closed system of meaning that does not need to refer back to a standard origin.


Bob Moog, Tsutomu Katoh, Gershon Kingsley for Lost Analogs (HESO Magazine)

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There are aesthetic differences to be drawn between the art that can be created by the two types of technology, but one must keep the political differences that can be discerned at the front of all arguments. This is because, more than affecting the production of individually separated works of art or culture or their qualitative appeal, the debate separating the merits of analog versus those of digital are conceptual, and their concepts affect every aspect of our lives in global society.

Roberto Bolaño’s 2666 is a work of fiction that tells the story of the 20th century, a century of people’s accelerating attempts to escape and obscure the lines binding them to analogy. It is a story that spans the globe, and one whose tendrils ensnare several different global class systems.

The 900-page novel is divided into 5 books: The Part about the Critics, The Part about Amalfitano, The Part about Fate, The Part about the Crimes, and The Part about Archimboldi. There are only two sections we need touch on to connect Bolaño’s book to the idea that the relationship between analog and digital is one of enabling the disavowal of consequence.

The Part about the Critics follows the escapades of a small society of academic specialists in the oeuvre of a Prussian who writes under the name Benno Von Archimboldi. The reader is taken through their bourgeois genteel Europe of personal achievement, petty academic intrigue, and tepid love affairs.

The Part about the Crimes is the story of a fictional town in the northern Mexican state of Sonora on the border with the United States. It contains the events that most of the book centers around—the serial murders of women living in and around the town of Santa Teresa, a town given over wholly to the activities of narcos and the massive ‘maquiladora’ factory parks.

Bolaño does not stop at describing the obvious interconnectedness of the lives of the characters, each of which traces a coincidental connection to the described lives and horrors in other parts of the world or in another epoch. He does not merely demonstrate a shared capability for violence in the first and second worlds by offering the professors’ beating of a foreign cab driver in contrast to the grim large-scale industry of poverty and murder in the Mexican factory town of Santa Teresa. Bolaño goes to great lengths to demonstrate that the characters’ lives are not connected to a shared tragedy by chance alone. The coincidence of chance connections are easily dismissed as novelty stories. Bolaño does the work to show that that which connects each disparate set of characters across social and economic borders is at the root of their respective societies.

Bolaño’s story demonstrates the point, similar to that made by philosopher and Lacanian scholar Slavoj Zizek in his book In Defense of Lost Causes, that both the first world of lettered achievement and the second world of tradition married to dehumanizing industry require one another to sustain global capitalism. The factory owner takes his profits from the information society denizen who buys his products. The first world consumer requires the cheap goods made “over there” to maintain her way of life. this connection is glossed over during the course of daily life in each separated arrondissement. It is the fact that the connection between each society becomes obscure that is important to bear in mind. Each culture perceives itself as the only legitimately mandated system. To each society the other, when conceived of at all, is perceived as a kind of anachronism strengthening the first society’s way of life before finally going away. As Zizek notes, capitalism functions in these gaps of understanding between each differing societal organization’s knowledge of the other one.

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The heart of Bolaño’s critique in 2666 is this: On all sides of the story, the reader is shown people who must step forward to recognize the origins of their way of life if the violence at its core is to be stopped. The diffuse, disparate, and desperate nature of global capitalism has a sheltering and obfuscating digital effect marked by the introduction of false analogs that prevent the acknowledgment of the origins, consequences, or resolutions of our plights. There is a voluntary excess inherent in the system that allows this gap in understanding, making these changes in perspective true only in its enactment. The enactment and making true of this excess is the expenditure that joins the world of global capital under a single system and enforces the separation of its disparate parts. The system of global capitalism requires the ignorance generated by the separation of its parts to maintain the frenzied, excessive activity of its cycle.

In an early passage in The Part about the Critics, Bolaño alludes to the nature of this excess at work. The literary critics are at table with a former rural cultural events promoter. The promoter relates a story of his face-to-face meeting with Archimboldi, the writer who is the object of the critics’ study. During that meeting, the cultural events promoter told the critics, another guest, a widowed baroness, had dominated the conversation with a story from her trip to Argentina where she and her husband had been the guests of a wealthy rancher. Because her husband had been a great cavalryman, a series of races was staged between the baron, the rancher’s son, and the gauchos of the estate. The result was that the baron won all three races. Afterwards, a gaucho boy had pulled the baroness aside and told her that, because the ranchers had known her husband would lose the first race, it had been arranged that the second and third would be secretly forfeited to him. Disbelieving the boy, the baroness asked him, if that were true, then why had her husband won all three races? Her question was met only with a murderous stare.

This conversation haunted the baroness for years after, and the encounter came to appear to her as a riddle. The riddle was this: If it really were true that the ranchers were such superior horsemen they had to arrange to throw the last two races to honor their guest, what did it mean that her husband had won all three races?

Archimboldi himself then provided the answer. At the last moment, the rancher’s son, in a fit of demonstrable luxurious excess and sacrifice, had decided to throw the first race in addition to the following two. The capital of his assured victory, of his demonstrable superiority on horseback, was squandered in secret. It was given away as a kind of unspoken sacrifice, a contract whose terms are known only to one, in order to bestow on the ranchers a sense of power and superiority over their guests that is hidden in magnanimity. It was a making real of their position of advantage over the Europeans, but it was done in the language of their vantage point’s interpretation of capital. What did they actually have in relation to the visiting Europeans but an excess of human life, of visceral skill, their own personal dignity, to expend on bettering their position? At that expenditure they not only gain a winking unity amongst themselves, but also the power of a secret and shared enmity. The problem with this brand of compensation is that it requires ever more sleight of hand to continue to make it appear self-sustaining and true, to make it culture.

Had the baroness stayed longer to speak to the boy, whom Bolaño described as having “the eyes of a bird of prey,” and “the eyes of a clumsy young butcher” any longer, that product of the injury of sacrifice that is enmity, Archimboldi pointed out, would have been expressed, literally and corporally, with an act of violent sacrifice even larger than the thrown horse races. It would have been one that, with the disposal of both the baroness’ and the boy’s lives would have both created and justified a state of honor. The boy was less sophisticated than his elders, and so certainly would have killed her.

Moving ahead to the present day of The Part about the Crimes, the author brings this idea of one-sided contracts and excess into the present day of the maquiladora, where the wasted excess made of human life is not, apparently, present enough in the poverty and working hours and conditions of the super-manufacturing facilities. In the story, the reduction of human life to an excess of industrial material must be even further realized in the apparently unstoppable serial murders of women in the maquiladora’s surrounds. That the excess that is being expended is through the murder of women, not men, goes a greater distance to enforce the truth of the system; along with time, and of course, the environment, what is being expended frivolously by industry, as though its presence is too copious to be necessary, is the very life that sustains it. The murders go on and on with the police unwilling or unable to end them. No one steps forward to volunteer what someone must know to ensure the killers are caught.

The police go as far as to arrest Klaus Haas, a cold, distant, immigrant psychopath (and computer programmer) and, in conjunction with the civic and business leaders in the community, present him as a scapegoat for the killings of women in the city of Santa Teresa. Nobody contests that he is a rapist and a murderer and obviously inhuman, but, incarcerated, he is also incapable of being responsible for the serial killings that go on and on without surcease in the outside world. He is the foil Bolaño uses to alert the reader metaphorically to the nature of this thing that resides in the engine room of capital. Bolaño chooses Haas to convey this message because he is a monster not bound by the accelerating story without continuity that is capital’s social narrative. Bolaño’s monster can see and tell us what others given wholly over to convention do not. That thing is this: He is a monster, but he is nowhere near as terrible as that blind, murderous excess which the maquiladora calls to itself.

In his moments of delusion after his arrest, Haas rants to the other prisoners:

“…a giant is coming and the giant is going to kill you. A giant? asked the rancher. You heard me right, motherfucker, said Haas. A giant. A big man, very big, and he’s going to kill you and everybody else. You crazy-ass gringo son of a bitch, said the rancher. For a moment no one said anything and the rancher seemed to fall asleep again. A little while later, however, Haas called out to say he heard footsteps. The giant was coming. He was covered in blood from head to toe and he was coming now.”

2666 - Roberto Bolaño, FSG 2008 Cover Design by Charlotte Strick (HESO Magazine)

2666 - Roberto Bolaño, FSG 2008 - Cover Design by Charlotte Strick

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To return to the discussion of analog versus digital, we have established that what is analog is built on the direct relationship of one condition to another. Digital technology required analog only to get its start, to provide the early templates of its behavior, but is not any longer bound to such a model.

Bolaño has written the necessarily long description in prose of the accelerating nature of the unpayable debts the human race took on in the 20th Century. It is his point that there is something to which we have lost the ability to directly relate in the present day. Our attitudes defining our relation to labor, to luxury, and to human life are informed by this divide. His critics live in the comfort of their critical pursuit of an elusive author, traveling freely across Europe with full access to the luxuries manufactured in border worlds like the maquiladora, places whose ruthlessness is exiled beyond accountability to the fringes of states.

The denizens of the border world Bolaño creates face a world literally and corporally defined by industry, where access to the goods and genteel stability manufactured there for use in other parts of the world is limited or somehow mitigated by the interference of sinecure, family, or fear. The commingled interests of narco-traffic and the manufacture of goods for the first world, the extortion involved in border crossings, and the murders of women loom collectively large as the hidden axle around which all life turns.

 

About the Author

Sean "Smiles" Lotman is a writer based in Kyoto, Japan (Manny Santiago)

  • Matthew Boyd is a musician and writer based in Seattle, Washington. His website is here.

Copyright

Unless otherwise stated All images © HESO Magazine, 2011.

This work is distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike license. If you wish to use reproduce any of this context in a commercial context, explicit permission is required. Please contact me directly.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.

Letter From The Editor – Digital V. Analog

Digital V. Analog

Digital V. Analog

“It now appears that books in the form so beloved by Uncle Alex and me, hinged in unlocked boxes, packed with leaves speckled by ink, are obsolescent. My grandchildren are already doing much of their reading from words projected on the face of a video screen. Please, please, please wait just a minute.

At the time of their invention books were devices as crassly practical for storing or transmitting language, albeit fabricated from scarcely modified substances found in forest and field and animals as the latest Silicon Valley miracles. But by accident, not by cunning calculation, books, because of their weight and texture and because of their sweetly token resistance to manipulation, involve our hands and eyes and then our minds and souls in a spiritual adventure I would be very sorry for my grandchildren not to know about.”

– Kurt Vonnegut Jr., Timequake

Kurt Vonnegut Jr.’s Timequake is largely concerned with the loss of the imagination, the loss of story telling, the loss of free will. To back up a bit, before Guttenberg transformed handmade manuscripts with movable type, books were largely cared for by monks and not meant for common people. Information, as it remains today, was power. Teach a blacksmith to read, suddenly he doesn’t need the pope’s interpretation, he can think for himself. Enter Martin Luther and his 95 theses. This is revolution. Thus, out went blind Homer’s oral tradition and in came the written word. The Magna Carta, the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, the Emancipation Proclamation. These are all direct results of the written word becoming law. This major paradigm shift took millennia to transition. What once took centuries now takes nanoseconds, whatever those are. Now you can google The Odyssey (1,550,000 results) in 0.18 seconds. Today books are becoming commonplace, overlooked, cumbersome, even impractical in a world in which atom-sized microprocessors hold the entire Library of Congress in your telephone/computer/stereo/address book/movie theater, ad nauseum. How we are communicating is changing. Changing so quickly that before Kurt Vonnegut Jr. passed from the earth in April of 2007, he felt we were missing something, he felt it necessary to tell us to “Please, please, please wait just a minute.”

Digital and analog. Cause and effect. Origin and outcome. Inevitability and free will. Moirai and Erinyes. Look at the big picture and get a sense of the generic. Zoom in and focus on details. Go too far and the grain (pixels, what have you) blurs beyond recognition. Get too wide and we’re in danger of missing the nitty-gritty. There is a sense of contradiction inherent in any magazine these days. What once was set by hand is now placed by a cursor. What once was inked and pressed on wood and metal is now plated via pdf. The outcome is the same: the HESO you hold in your hands, which tells you via meticulously placed type, at the top of every page to check out http://hesomagazine.com.

I have a fat manilla envelope full of stationary from the many hotels, hostels and inns I’ve stayed in over the years. Envelopes and clean white leaves of paper pressed with letterhead, logos and contact information. Largely a collection of souvenirs to commemorate my various travels, as well as to confuse hell out of anyone I write a letter to from say, Barcelona using stationary from Jakarta, they have always represented potential to me. It’s come to the point that, besides packs of fresh boxer briefs and white Fruit of the Loom tank tops, this is one of the only things my mother can give me for Christmas which she knows will tickle me pink.

We don’t write anymore (except Stephen King), we post, we tweet, we update our status. Letters passe, email is the mode du jour. Greeting cards are getting scarce, e-cards are simply too easy. What happens when the newspapers go so bankrupt as to finally disappear? Will bloggers do their own research? Will we breathe easier with all the excess trees growing untouched throughout the world or will the Japanese buy them all up for disposable chopstick production?

Resist.

Will we forget how to read and write? English (26 letters, 10 numerals and 8 or so punctuation marks) is relatively easy, but what about Gaelic and Welsh, Estonian and Finnish? Japanese people regularly confide that due to the exponential growth and use of mobile phones and computers, they are losing their ability to quickly and correctly write complicated characters. In the face of gradually becoming unable to fluently write an admittedly difficult system, those I’ve talked with seem largely apathetic. The term Shoganai (“Nothing can be done”) is often heard in this context. Despite all this, Asō Tarō’s- the current Japanese prime minister- recent (and largely blogged on) gaffes reading Japanese characters on his teleprompter during press conferences is at least indirectly responsible for a boom in sales of study guides.

Resist.

The world is still largely analog, that is to say related to nature. Digital as it may seem, there are still holes in the net. It is from this imperfection that life forms, that originality comes, that the divine breeds. In the world of electronics the “on” circuit is a closed loop. Turn on the light and the loop closes, flip the switch off to break the cycle. Closed is to running current as open is to stasis. From the looking glass we perceive a reverse image. From the negative a positive. From nothing something, from something nothing.

Without the analog we lose all context of who we are, where we came. We become emotionless numbers on a grid, switches for the puppet masters to flick on and off. Without perception of the surreal, reality becomes meaningless, empty 1s and 0s floating in a vacuum, bereft of true value.

Resist.

Find a mythology relative to the times in which we live. If none exists relevant to your life, make one up. Don’t accept what the screen and its talking heads pour into your eyes.

Resist.

I have long believed that humanity’s greatest quality is adaptability. And yet the changes in our current modus operandi are constant and quickening. How do we keep up with the Joneses and their cloneses? How do we properly perceive whatever it is that is going on around us? String theory? Through the many simulacra we invent to connect us, to keep us close? In one sense it’s a good thing: you need to know what’s happening in the derivatives market to understand what may happen to the price of rice in China. But do we really need 300 satellite channels of the same garbage – Now available in HD!- or realtime updates of what outfit such and such celebrity had on when they checked into rehab, again? Or do we, at a certain level, trust that paper and ink still have value, start writing letters again, sending poetry to faraway loves, pull out that yellow legal pad, ala Vonnegut, and finally write your novel the old fashioned way, illegibly?

In Timequake, the whole of humanity loses free will for 10 years, what Vonnegut Jr. terms the “rerun”. He goes on, “There was absolutely nothing you could say during the rerun if you hadn’t said it the first time.” The thought that still nags me to this day, more than 10 years after I first read the book, and two years since Mr. Vonnegut has passed into the ether, what I always wanted to ask him was, “Did they realize it while it was happening, or only after, or even at all?” Like most important things that happen in realtime, I don’t think they did.

I trust your responses to this missive will be written in Esperanto and sent via carrier pigeon.

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