terça-feira, 21 de junho de 2011

Battle of the business card

American Psycho
, ≈18:30:

— Is that a gram?
— New card. What do you think?

— Whoa. Very nice. Look at that.
— Picked them up from the printer’s yesterday.— Good colouring.
— That’s bone. And the lettering is something called Silian Rail.— That’s very cool, Bateman. But that’s nothing. Look at this.

— Raised lettering, pale nimbus. White.
— That is really nice.
— Eggshell with Romalian type. What do you think ?
— Nice.
— Jesus. That is really super. How'da nitwit like you get so tasteful?
— I can't believe that Bryce... prefers Van Patten's card to mine.
— But wait. You ain't seen nothin' yet. Raised lettering, pale nimbus... white.

— Impressive. Very nice.— Mm.
— Let’s see Paul Allen’s card.

Look at that subtle off-white colouring. The tasteful thickness of it. Oh, my God – it even has a watermark.
— Something wrong? Patrick? You’re sweating.

quinta-feira, 19 de maio de 2011

McLuhan, Poe and Maelstrom

illustration by Harry Clarke 

I positively felt a wish to explore its depths, even at the sacrifice I was going to make
(from Edgar Allan Poe’s A Descent Into the Maelstrom)

Marshall McLuhan's Intervew from Playboy, 1969 (excerpt) 

PLAYBOY: Despite your personal distaste for the upheavals induced by the new electric technology, you seem to feel that if we understand and influence its effects on us, a less alienated and fragmented society may emerge from it. Is it thus accurate to say that you are essentially optimistic about the future?

McLUHAN: There are grounds for both optimism and pessimism. The extensions of man’s consciousness induced by the electric media could conceivably usher in the millennium, but it also holds the potential for realizing the Anti-Christ — Yeats’ rough beast, its hour come round at last, slouching toward Bethlehem to be born. Cataclysmic environmental changes such as these are, in and of themselves, morally neutral; it is how we perceive them and react to them that will determine their ultimate psychic and social consequences. If we refuse to see them at all, we will become their servants. It’s inevitable that the world-pool of electronic information movement will toss us all about like corks on a stormy sea, but if we keep our cool during the descent into the maelstrom, studying the process as it happens to us and what we can do about it, we can come through.

Personally, I have a great faith in the resiliency and adaptability of man, and I tend to look to our tomorrows with a surge of excitement and hope. I feel that we’re standing on the threshold of a liberating and exhilarating world in which the human tribe can become truly one family and man’s consciousness can be freed from the shackles of mechanical culture and enabled to roam the cosmos. I have a deep and abiding belief in man’s potential to grow and learn, to plumb the depths of his own being and to learn the secret songs that orchestrate the universe. We live in a transitional era of profound pain and tragic identity quest, but the agony of our age is the labor pain of rebirth.

I expect to see the coming decades transform the planet into an art form; the new man, linked in a cosmic harmony that transcends time and space, will sensuously caress and mold and pattern every facet of the terrestrial artifact as if it were a work of art, and man himself will become an organic art form. There is a long road ahead, and the stars are only way stations, but we have begun the journey. To be born in this age is a precious gift, and I regret the prospect of my own death only because I will leave so many pages of man’s destiny — if you will excuse the Gutenbergian image — tantalizingly unread. But perhaps, as I’ve tried to demonstrate in my examination of the postliterate culture, the story begins only when the book closes

quinta-feira, 21 de abril de 2011

And the earth was without form...

Karen Gunderson (oil painting)

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.
And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.
And God saw the light, and it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.

Book of Genesis, King James Bible

This well known account of creation, seems to suggest that evil was pre-existent in the "darkness (...) upon the face of the deep" and the "spirit of God" did not create it. He came in with order, the light that "was good", and the idea of chaos ("earth without form, and void") is imbued with evil ("darkness"). In this context, the "good", in the process of creation, is only present in the final order configured upon chaos. But I tend to see chaos as an important aspect of creation, the lack of form and the "darkness" as necessary steps towards order. Creation cannot, it seems to me, to be properly understood mainly as order, but as order from chaos.

Chess as allegory

Alice’s chess game where White Pawn plays and wins in eleven moves (illustration circa 1898)

When and how and why was chess invented? The very oldest chess myths point toward its actual origins. One story portrays two successive Indian kings, Hashran and Balhait. The first asked his sage to invent a game symbolizing man's dependence on destiny and fate; he invented nard, the dice-based predecessor to backgammon. The subsequent monarch needed a game which would embrace his belief in free will and intelligence. "At this time chess was invented," reads an ancient text, "which the King preferred to nard, because in this game skill always succeeds against ignorance. He made mathematical calculations on chess, and wrote a book on it. . . . He often played chess with the wise men of his court, and it was he who represented the pieces by the figures of men and animals, and assigned them grades and ranks"

He also made of this game a kind of allegory of the heavenly bodies (the seven planets and the twelve zodiacal signs), and dedicated each piece to a star. The game of chess became a school of government and defense; it was consulted in time of war, when military tactics were about to be employed, to study the more or less rapid movements of troops.

King Balhait's wide-ranging list of the game's uses has a connecting thread: chess as a demonstration device, a touchstone for abstract ideas. The reference to "mathematical calculations" is particularly noteworthy, as math comes up over and over again in many of the oldest chess legends. One tale, known as "The Doubling of the Squares," tells of a king presented with an intriguing new sixty-four-square board game by his court philosopher. The king is so delighted by chess that he invites the inventor to name his own reward.

Oh, I don't want much, replies the philosopher, pointing to the chessboard. Just give me one grain of wheat for the first square of the board, two grains for the second square, four grains for the third square, and so on, doubling the number of grains for each successive square, up to the sixty-fourth square.

The king is shocked, and even insulted, by what seems like such a modest request. He doesn't realize that through the hidden power of geometric progression, his court philosopher has just requested 18,446,744,073,709,551,615 (eighteen quintillion) grains of wheat--more than exists on the entire planet. The king has not only just been given a fascinating new game; he's also been treated to a powerful numbers lesson.

This widely repeated story is obviously apocryphal, but the facts of geometric progression are real. Such mathematical concepts were crucial to the advancement of technology and civilization--but were useless unless they could be understood. The advancement of big ideas required not just clever inventors, but also great teachers and vivid presentation vehicles.

That's apparently where chess came in: it used the highly accessible idea of war to convey far less concrete ideas. Chess was, in a sense, medieval presentation software—the PowerPoint of the Middle Ages. It was a customizable platform for poets, philosophers, and other intellectuals to explore and present a wide array of complex ideas in a visual and compelling way.

David Shenk, The Immortal Game: A History of Chess