LEXICON


Paul Harris




BOOK

1. A technology for the storage and dissemination of words ostensibly to be read in consecutive sequence left to right, front to back; comes encased in cloth covers with a title and a proper name and some indication of its place of issue.

2. An object fashioned of paper and printed ink that generates a group of variable habitual behaviors by its users, including lying down in bed, going to a particular chair or couch, consuming a chosen food or drink, smoking or non. In addition, different species of the object gather around it constellations of certain speech patterns, such as the contested variations of terms from opaque jargons or enthusiastic exchanges of opinion about homologous objects.

3. An object with a peculiar life and circulation, often sought with zeal or owned with pride, that traverses and occupies spaces unique to its milieu, such as dusty garage corners, close-fit wooden shelves, car floors, cardboard boxes. Has difficulty finding its way to a final end.

BRAIN

Once accepted to be a physiological organ composed of 100 billion nerve cells, "wrinkled and grooved like an oversized walnut" (Tormont Webster 216), now a coveted imaginary object manufactured in contemporary myths emanating from several leading producers, including social and natural sciences and the humanities. A verbal attractor, a discursive site where we find projected the organizing principles of the natural world, the domain of information technologies, and even fictional texts. Definitive status uncertain - perhaps a viral growth that is entraining and entwining the discursive softwares of a culture, perhaps only a three-pound grey area where the world is being injected inside itself.

CONSTRAINT

A form of invisible architecture, providing the undergirding for the functioning of a system or ecology. This architecture works as a semi-permeable membrane, a virtual boundary; it provides the parameters that define a "context." Constraint marks the passage from a system (e.g., language as a system of differential signs) to an environment, organism or instantiation (e.g., an act of writing with language circumscribed by constraints). Easily conflated with rules, constraints do not dictate what must occur or what components are or are not allowed at a given time. They rather quantify the "degrees of semiotic freedom" (Wilden) in a system; they could be thought of as the inherent limitations of any Umwelt, any evolutionary level of organization - the world of a rock is more constrained than that of a cat, and presumably we have more semiotic freedom than cats. In the contexts of communication systems, constraints generally reassert the materiality of any given medium - an important stipulation at a time when the "dematerialization" of media is often understood in a literal fashion.

Constraints are paradoxical-seeming in that on the one hand they draw a set of boundaries, while on the other they only impose stipulations, they mark out a potential domain within which any number of permutations or results can occur. Literature written under certain formal constraints remains a "potential literature" because every text that satisfies the constraints is only one possible solution or configuration. Calvino's formal algorithm for city-types in Invisible Cities may be diagrammed in such a way that its invisible architecture implicitly enjoins a continuation of the text out into other invisible cities, presumably the ones we begin to imagine and inhabit from reading his book. Each chapter of Georges Perec's Life A User's Manual configures a puzzle whose pieces include no less that 42 daunting constraints - but even as we delight in his solutions, we can go back and write different stories that would fulfill the chapter's place in the constraint structure, that would design different rooms in the building of the book, that would fit into its invisible architecture. As is most clear from Raymond Queneau's Cent Mille Millards de Poemes, the products of constraint-guided potential literature are themselves machines for making stories.

NARRATIVE

A word pertaining to the disposition of words, difficult to pin to a definition because of the subtle changes in the inflection of its usage. Beginning as a noun denoting a story or description of events, narrative has unfolded along a trajectory toward epistemology - narrative connotes a privileged cognitive capability or act, the capacity to organize and shape information and ideas into a coherent arrangement; it may be the prized mode of knowledge in our time.

As both a form of fiction and mode of knowledge, narrative has also become the technology for fashioning the self. In a philosophical mood beyond the subject, narrative may be taken as the locus of the play of the self - in post-colonial contexts, narrative enables the self to act out its ex-propriation and find an ex-centric place in the world. In a political and moral world bereft of fixed value systems, narrative assumes an association with rhetoric and therefore power; in a universe redrawing its distinctions between natural and artificial life forms, narrative remains a distinguishing feature of the human in a post-human setting.

TECHNOGRAPHY

1. The analysis of writing in terms of the technology of inscription. The study of writing as a material phenomenon, how its relations to different tools or media bear on its form, content, and history; moving toward greater emphasis on problems of graphic design. Represents part of a larger attempt to write an account of writing, which means to separate the act of writing (to write) from the material forms it takes (account of writing), even as it proclaims the indissolubility of the two.

2. A tool or means to write with, a technology for graphic inscription.

VIRTUAL

1. The geography of the invisible, a spatial landscape composed in non-dimensional electronic environments that takes shape both physically and imaginatively as the realm of cyberspace. A topographical projection on screen, generated in a space within the computer where terms like distance and velocity no longer obtain their sense, where the "space between" is a matter of processing time. This topographical projection becomes a digital landscape dominated by the visualization of information. The visual forms range from crude mimetic representations (interface metaphors designed to transform the desk top into the desktop) to abstract geometrical patterns that express qualities or characteristics of systems rather than graphing their path in space (the geometry of non-linear dynamics).

2. A philosophical term developed in the work of Gilles Deleuze. For Deleuze, metaphysics is meta-physics, a play of thought at the boundaries of the physical, a form of speculative ontology - less a philosophizing about knowledge than speculations about the world, with the world itself perceived as a dynamic process always in the midst of articulating itself.

Deleuze posits that we may think of reality not in terms of an opposition between the possible and the real, but rather between the virtual and the actual. The distinction is that possible things do not have any sort of existence, they are empty signs, leaving the real as a realm of solid objects, akin to that of classical physics. The virtual, by contrast, persists as a sort of enfolded order of potentiality, from which things actualize by differentiating themselves.

The virtual is like a second-order metaphysical concept: a concept of conceptual space, a space of relations (and relations among relationships) not things, where pure structure inheres with a reality of its own, without becoming an object. The virtual marks the conditions or orientations of a task or project, but does not designate their solution (DR, 208). In this way, it has a status analogous to constraint; the virtual is the "space" "in" which constraints persist.

3. The two meanings of the virtual have the tendency to cross over (in the genetic sense). For instance, the desires of users, especially in the technographical field, often project a metaphysical quality of the virtual onto its immaterial computer screen environments. For a manifesto of this tendency, see the proceedings of the Artificial Life conferences; for a seething thought-experiment about this tendency, see Stanislaw Lem, "Non Serviam," in A Perfect Vacuum.

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LEVEL II: HYBRIDS
 virtual brain
  technographical brain
   technographical book