Monday, December 31, 2007

The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, Walter Benjamin

Source: UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television;
Transcribed: by Andy Blunden 1998; proofed and corrected Feb. 2005.

“Our fine arts were developed, their types and uses were established, in times very different from the present, by men whose power of action upon things was insignificant in comparison with ours. But the amazing growth of our techniques, the adaptability and precision they have attained, the ideas and habits they are creating, make it a certainty that profound changes are impending in the ancient craft of the Beautiful. In all the arts there is a physical component which can no longer be considered or treated as it used to be, which cannot remain unaffected by our modern knowledge and power. For the last twenty years neither matter nor space nor time has been what it was from time immemorial. We must expect great innovations to transform the entire technique of the arts, thereby affecting artistic invention itself and perhaps even bringing about an amazing change in our very notion of art.”
Paul Valéry, Pièces sur L’Art, 1931
Le Conquete de l’ubiquite


When Marx undertook his critique of the capitalistic mode of production, this mode was in its infancy. Marx directed his efforts in such a way as to give them prognostic value. He went back to the basic conditions underlying capitalistic production and through his presentation showed what could be expected of capitalism in the future. The result was that one could expect it not only to exploit the proletariat with increasing intensity, but ultimately to create conditions which would make it possible to abolish capitalism itself.

The transformation of the superstructure, which takes place far more slowly than that of the substructure, has taken more than half a century to manifest in all areas of culture the change in the conditions of production. Only today can it be indicated what form this has taken. Certain prognostic requirements should be met by these statements. However, theses about the art of the proletariat after its assumption of power or about the art of a classless society would have less bearing on these demands than theses about the developmental tendencies of art under present conditions of production. Their dialectic is no less noticeable in the superstructure than in the economy. It would therefore be wrong to underestimate the value of such theses as a weapon. They brush aside a number of outmoded concepts, such as creativity and genius, eternal value and mystery – concepts whose uncontrolled (and at present almost uncontrollable) application would lead to a processing of data in the Fascist sense. The concepts which are introduced into the theory of art in what follows differ from the more familiar terms in that they are completely useless for the purposes of Fascism. They are, on the other hand, useful for the formulation of revolutionary demands in the politics of art.


In principle a work of art has always been reproducible. Man-made artifacts could always be imitated by men. Replicas were made by pupils in practice of their craft, by masters for diffusing their works, and, finally, by third parties in the pursuit of gain. Mechanical reproduction of a work of art, however, represents something new. Historically, it advanced intermittently and in leaps at long intervals, but with accelerated intensity. The Greeks knew only two procedures of technically reproducing works of art: founding and stamping. Bronzes, terra cottas, and coins were the only art works which they could produce in quantity. All others were unique and could not be mechanically reproduced. With the woodcut graphic art became mechanically reproducible for the first time, long before script became reproducible by print. The enormous changes which printing, the mechanical reproduction of writing, has brought about in literature are a familiar story. However, within the phenomenon which we are here examining from the perspective of world history, print is merely a special, though particularly important, case. During the Middle Ages engraving and etching were added to the woodcut; at the beginning of the nineteenth century lithography made its appearance. With lithography the technique of reproduction reached an essentially new stage. This much more direct process was distinguished by the tracing of the design on a stone rather than its incision on a block of wood or its etching on a copperplate and permitted graphic art for the first time to put its products on the market, not only in large numbers as hitherto, but also in daily changing forms. Lithography enabled graphic art to illustrate everyday life, and it began to keep pace with printing. But only a few decades after its invention, lithography was surpassed by photography. For the first time in the process of pictorial reproduction, photography freed the hand of the most important artistic functions which henceforth devolved only upon the eye looking into a lens. Since the eye perceives more swiftly than the hand can draw, the process of pictorial reproduction was accelerated so enormously that it could keep pace with speech. A film operator shooting a scene in the studio captures the images at the speed of an actor’s speech. Just as lithography virtually implied the illustrated newspaper, so did photography foreshadow the sound film. The technical reproduction of sound was tackled at the end of the last century. These convergent endeavors made predictable a situation which Paul Valery pointed up in this sentence:

“Just as water, gas, and electricity are brought into our houses from far off to satisfy our needs in response to a minimal effort, so we shall be supplied with visual or auditory images, which will appear and disappear at a simple movement of the hand, hardly more than a sign.”

Around 1900 technical reproduction had reached a standard that not only permitted it to reproduce all transmitted works of art and thus to cause the most profound change in their impact upon the public; it also had captured a place of its own among the artistic processes. For the study of this standard nothing is more revealing than the nature of the repercussions that these two different manifestations – the reproduction of works of art and the art of the film – have had on art in its traditional form.


Even the most perfect reproduction of a work of art is lacking in one element: its presence in time and space, its unique existence at the place where it happens to be. This unique existence of the work of art determined the history to which it was subject throughout the time of its existence. This includes the changes which it may have suffered in physical condition over the years as well as the various changes in its ownership. The traces of the first can be revealed only by chemical or physical analyses which it is impossible to perform on a reproduction; changes of ownership are subject to a tradition which must be traced from the situation of the original.

The presence of the original is the prerequisite to the concept of authenticity. Chemical analyses of the patina of a bronze can help to establish this, as does the proof that a given manuscript of the Middle Ages stems from an archive of the fifteenth century. The whole sphere of authenticity is outside technical – and, of course, not only technical – reproducibility. Confronted with its manual reproduction, which was usually branded as a forgery, the original preserved all its authority; not so vis-à-vis technical reproduction. The reason is twofold. First, process reproduction is more independent of the original than manual reproduction. For example, in photography, process reproduction can bring out those aspects of the original that are unattainable to the naked eye yet accessible to the lens, which is adjustable and chooses its angle at will. And photographic reproduction, with the aid of certain processes, such as enlargement or slow motion, can capture images which escape natural vision. Secondly, technical reproduction can put the copy of the original into situations which would be out of reach for the original itself. Above all, it enables the original to meet the beholder halfway, be it in the form of a photograph or a phonograph record. The cathedral leaves its locale to be received in the studio of a lover of art; the choral production, performed in an auditorium or in the open air, resounds in the drawing room.

The situations into which the product of mechanical reproduction can be brought may not touch the actual work of art, yet the quality of its presence is always depreciated. This holds not only for the art work but also, for instance, for a landscape which passes in review before the spectator in a movie. In the case of the art object, a most sensitive nucleus – namely, its authenticity – is interfered with whereas no natural object is vulnerable on that score. The authenticity of a thing is the essence of all that is transmissible from its beginning, ranging from its substantive duration to its testimony to the history which it has experienced. Since the historical testimony rests on the authenticity, the former, too, is jeopardized by reproduction when substantive duration ceases to matter. And what is really jeopardized when the historical testimony is affected is the authority of the object.

One might subsume the eliminated element in the term “aura” and go on to say: that which withers in the age of mechanical reproduction is the aura of the work of art. This is a symptomatic process whose significance points beyond the realm of art. One might generalize by saying: the technique of reproduction detaches the reproduced object from the domain of tradition. By making many reproductions it substitutes a plurality of copies for a unique existence. And in permitting the reproduction to meet the beholder or listener in his own particular situation, it reactivates the object reproduced. These two processes lead to a tremendous shattering of tradition which is the obverse of the contemporary crisis and renewal of mankind. Both processes are intimately connected with the contemporary mass movements. Their most powerful agent is the film. Its social significance, particularly in its most positive form, is inconceivable without its destructive, cathartic aspect, that is, the liquidation of the traditional value of the cultural heritage. This phenomenon is most palpable in the great historical films. It extends to ever new positions. In 1927 Abel Gance exclaimed enthusiastically:

“Shakespeare, Rembrandt, Beethoven will make films... all legends, all mythologies and all myths, all founders of religion, and the very religions... await their exposed resurrection, and the heroes crowd each other at the gate.”

Presumably without intending it, he issued an invitation to a far-reaching liquidation.


During long periods of history, the mode of human sense perception changes with humanity’s entire mode of existence. The manner in which human sense perception is organized, the medium in which it is accomplished, is determined not only by nature but by historical circumstances as well. The fifth century, with its great shifts of population, saw the birth of the late Roman art industry and the Vienna Genesis, and there developed not only an art different from that of antiquity but also a new kind of perception. The scholars of the Viennese school, Riegl and Wickhoff, who resisted the weight of classical tradition under which these later art forms had been buried, were the first to draw conclusions from them concerning the organization of perception at the time. However far-reaching their insight, these scholars limited themselves to showing the significant, formal hallmark which characterized perception in late Roman times. They did not attempt – and, perhaps, saw no way – to show the social transformations expressed by these changes of perception. The conditions for an analogous insight are more favorable in the present. And if changes in the medium of contemporary perception can be comprehended as decay of the aura, it is possible to show its social causes.

The concept of aura which was proposed above with reference to historical objects may usefully be illustrated with reference to the aura of natural ones. We define the aura of the latter as the unique phenomenon of a distance, however close it may be. If, while resting on a summer afternoon, you follow with your eyes a mountain range on the horizon or a branch which casts its shadow over you, you experience the aura of those mountains, of that branch. This image makes it easy to comprehend the social bases of the contemporary decay of the aura. It rests on two circumstances, both of which are related to the increasing significance of the masses in contemporary life. Namely, the desire of contemporary masses to bring things “closer” spatially and humanly, which is just as ardent as their bent toward overcoming the uniqueness of every reality by accepting its reproduction. Every day the urge grows stronger to get hold of an object at very close range by way of its likeness, its reproduction. Unmistakably, reproduction as offered by picture magazines and newsreels differs from the image seen by the unarmed eye. Uniqueness and permanence are as closely linked in the latter as are transitoriness and reproducibility in the former. To pry an object from its shell, to destroy its aura, is the mark of a perception whose “sense of the universal equality of things” has increased to such a degree that it extracts it even from a unique object by means of reproduction. Thus is manifested in the field of perception what in the theoretical sphere is noticeable in the increasing importance of statistics. The adjustment of reality to the masses and of the masses to reality is a process of unlimited scope, as much for thinking as for perception.


The uniqueness of a work of art is inseparable from its being imbedded in the fabric of tradition. This tradition itself is thoroughly alive and extremely changeable. An ancient statue of Venus, for example, stood in a different traditional context with the Greeks, who made it an object of veneration, than with the clerics of the Middle Ages, who viewed it as an ominous idol. Both of them, however, were equally confronted with its uniqueness, that is, its aura. Originally the contextual integration of art in tradition found its expression in the cult. We know that the earliest art works originated in the service of a ritual – first the magical, then the religious kind. It is significant that the existence of the work of art with reference to its aura is never entirely separated from its ritual function. In other words, the unique value of the “authentic” work of art has its basis in ritual, the location of its original use value. This ritualistic basis, however remote, is still recognizable as secularized ritual even in the most profane forms of the cult of beauty. The secular cult of beauty, developed during the Renaissance and prevailing for three centuries, clearly showed that ritualistic basis in its decline and the first deep crisis which befell it. With the advent of the first truly revolutionary means of reproduction, photography, simultaneously with the rise of socialism, art sensed the approaching crisis which has become evident a century later. At the time, art reacted with the doctrine of l’art pour l’art, that is, with a theology of art. This gave rise to what might be called a negative theology in the form of the idea of “pure” art, which not only denied any social function of art but also any categorizing by subject matter. (In poetry, Mallarme was the first to take this position.)

An analysis of art in the age of mechanical reproduction must do justice to these relationships, for they lead us to an all-important insight: for the first time in world history, mechanical reproduction emancipates the work of art from its parasitical dependence on ritual. To an ever greater degree the work of art reproduced becomes the work of art designed for reproducibility. From a photographic negative, for example, one can make any number of prints; to ask for the “authentic” print makes no sense. But the instant the criterion of authenticity ceases to be applicable to artistic production, the total function of art is reversed. Instead of being based on ritual, it begins to be based on another practice – politics.


Works of art are received and valued on different planes. Two polar types stand out; with one, the accent is on the cult value; with the other, on the exhibition value of the work. Artistic production begins with ceremonial objects destined to serve in a cult. One may assume that what mattered was their existence, not their being on view. The elk portrayed by the man of the Stone Age on the walls of his cave was an instrument of magic. He did expose it to his fellow men, but in the main it was meant for the spirits. Today the cult value would seem to demand that the work of art remain hidden. Certain statues of gods are accessible only to the priest in the cella; certain Madonnas remain covered nearly all year round; certain sculptures on medieval cathedrals are invisible to the spectator on ground level. With the emancipation of the various art practices from ritual go increasing opportunities for the exhibition of their products. It is easier to exhibit a portrait bust that can be sent here and there than to exhibit the statue of a divinity that has its fixed place in the interior of a temple. The same holds for the painting as against the mosaic or fresco that preceded it. And even though the public presentability of a mass originally may have been just as great as that of a symphony, the latter originated at the moment when its public presentability promised to surpass that of the mass.

With the different methods of technical reproduction of a work of art, its fitness for exhibition increased to such an extent that the quantitative shift between its two poles turned into a qualitative transformation of its nature. This is comparable to the situation of the work of art in prehistoric times when, by the absolute emphasis on its cult value, it was, first and foremost, an instrument of magic. Only later did it come to be recognized as a work of art. In the same way today, by the absolute emphasis on its exhibition value the work of art becomes a creation with entirely new functions, among which the one we are conscious of, the artistic function, later may be recognized as incidental. This much is certain: today photography and the film are the most serviceable exemplifications of this new function.


In photography, exhibition value begins to displace cult value all along the line. But cult value does not give way without resistance. It retires into an ultimate retrenchment: the human countenance. It is no accident that the portrait was the focal point of early photography. The cult of remembrance of loved ones, absent or dead, offers a last refuge for the cult value of the picture. For the last time the aura emanates from the early photographs in the fleeting expression of a human face. This is what constitutes their melancholy, incomparable beauty. But as man withdraws from the photographic image, the exhibition value for the first time shows its superiority to the ritual value. To have pinpointed this new stage constitutes the incomparable significance of Atget, who, around 1900, took photographs of deserted Paris streets. It has quite justly been said of him that he photographed them like scenes of crime. The scene of a crime, too, is deserted; it is photographed for the purpose of establishing evidence. With Atget, photographs become standard evidence for historical occurrences, and acquire a hidden political significance. They demand a specific kind of approach; free-floating contemplation is not appropriate to them. They stir the viewer; he feels challenged by them in a new way. At the same time picture magazines begin to put up signposts for him, right ones or wrong ones, no matter. For the first time, captions have become obligatory. And it is clear that they have an altogether different character than the title of a painting. The directives which the captions give to those looking at pictures in illustrated magazines soon become even more explicit and more imperative in the film where the meaning of each single picture appears to be prescribed by the sequence of all preceding ones.


The nineteenth-century dispute as to the artistic value of painting versus photography today seems devious and confused. This does not diminish its importance, however; if anything, it underlines it. The dispute was in fact the symptom of a historical transformation the universal impact of which was not realized by either of the rivals. When the age of mechanical reproduction separated art from its basis in cult, the semblance of its autonomy disappeared forever. The resulting change in the function of art transcended the perspective of the century; for a long time it even escaped that of the twentieth century, which experienced the development of the film. Earlier much futile thought had been devoted to the question of whether photography is an art. The primary question – whether the very invention of photography had not transformed the entire nature of art – was not raised. Soon the film theoreticians asked the same ill-considered question with regard to the film. But the difficulties which photography caused traditional aesthetics were mere child’s play as compared to those raised by the film. Whence the insensitive and forced character of early theories of the film. Abel Gance, for instance, compares the film with hieroglyphs: “Here, by a remarkable regression, we have come back to the level of expression of the Egyptians ... Pictorial language has not yet matured because our eyes have not yet adjusted to it. There is as yet insufficient respect for, insufficient cult of, what it expresses.” Or, in the words of Séverin-Mars: “What art has been granted a dream more poetical and more real at the same time! Approached in this fashion the film might represent an incomparable means of expression. Only the most high-minded persons, in the most perfect and mysterious moments of their lives, should be allowed to enter its ambience.” Alexandre Arnoux concludes his fantasy about the silent film with the question: “Do not all the bold descriptions we have given amount to the definition of prayer?” It is instructive to note how their desire to class the film among the “arts” forces these theoreticians to read ritual elements into it – with a striking lack of discretion. Yet when these speculations were published, films like L’Opinion publique and The Gold Rush had already appeared. This, however, did not keep Abel Gance from adducing hieroglyphs for purposes of comparison, nor Séverin-Mars from speaking of the film as one might speak of paintings by Fra Angelico. Characteristically, even today ultrareactionary authors give the film a similar contextual significance – if not an outright sacred one, then at least a supernatural one. Commenting on Max Reinhardt’s film version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Werfel states that undoubtedly it was the sterile copying of the exterior world with its streets, interiors, railroad stations, restaurants, motorcars, and beaches which until now had obstructed the elevation of the film to the realm of art. “The film has not yet realized its true meaning, its real possibilities ... these consist in its unique faculty to express by natural means and with incomparable persuasiveness all that is fairylike, marvelous, supernatural.”


The artistic performance of a stage actor is definitely presented to the public by the actor in person; that of the screen actor, however, is presented by a camera, with a twofold consequence. The camera that presents the performance of the film actor to the public need not respect the performance as an integral whole. Guided by the cameraman, the camera continually changes its position with respect to the performance. The sequence of positional views which the editor composes from the material supplied him constitutes the completed film. It comprises certain factors of movement which are in reality those of the camera, not to mention special camera angles, close-ups, etc. Hence, the performance of the actor is subjected to a series of optical tests. This is the first consequence of the fact that the actor’s performance is presented by means of a camera. Also, the film actor lacks the opportunity of the stage actor to adjust to the audience during his performance, since he does not present his performance to the audience in person. This permits the audience to take the position of a critic, without experiencing any personal contact with the actor. The audience’s identification with the actor is really an identification with the camera. Consequently the audience takes the position of the camera; its approach is that of testing. This is not the approach to which cult values may be exposed.


For the film, what matters primarily is that the actor represents himself to the public before the camera, rather than representing someone else. One of the first to sense the actor’s metamorphosis by this form of testing was Pirandello. Though his remarks on the subject in his novel Si Gira were limited to the negative aspects of the question and to the silent film only, this hardly impairs their validity. For in this respect, the sound film did not change anything essential. What matters is that the part is acted not for an audience but for a mechanical contrivance – in the case of the sound film, for two of them. “The film actor,” wrote Pirandello, “feels as if in exile – exiled not only from the stage but also from himself. With a vague sense of discomfort he feels inexplicable emptiness: his body loses its corporeality, it evaporates, it is deprived of reality, life, voice, and the noises caused by his moving about, in order to be changed into a mute image, flickering an instant on the screen, then vanishing into silence .... The projector will play with his shadow before the public, and he himself must be content to play before the camera.” This situation might also be characterized as follows: for the first time – and this is the effect of the film – man has to operate with his whole living person, yet forgoing its aura. For aura is tied to his presence; there can be no replica of it. The aura which, on the stage, emanates from Macbeth, cannot be separated for the spectators from that of the actor. However, the singularity of the shot in the studio is that the camera is substituted for the public. Consequently, the aura that envelops the actor vanishes, and with it the aura of the figure he portrays.

It is not surprising that it should be a dramatist such as Pirandello who, in characterizing the film, inadvertently touches on the very crisis in which we see the theater. Any thorough study proves that there is indeed no greater contrast than that of the stage play to a work of art that is completely subject to or, like the film, founded in, mechanical reproduction. Experts have long recognized that in the film “the greatest effects are almost always obtained by ‘acting’ as little as possible ... ” In 1932 Rudolf Arnheim saw “the latest trend ... in treating the actor as a stage prop chosen for its characteristics and... inserted at the proper place.” With this idea something else is closely connected. The stage actor identifies himself with the character of his role. The film actor very often is denied this opportunity. His creation is by no means all of a piece; it is composed of many separate performances. Besides certain fortuitous considerations, such as cost of studio, availability of fellow players, décor, etc., there are elementary necessities of equipment that split the actor’s work into a series of mountable episodes. In particular, lighting and its installation require the presentation of an event that, on the screen, unfolds as a rapid and unified scene, in a sequence of separate shootings which may take hours at the studio; not to mention more obvious montage. Thus a jump from the window can be shot in the studio as a jump from a scaffold, and the ensuing flight, if need be, can be shot weeks later when outdoor scenes are taken. Far more paradoxical cases can easily be construed. Let us assume that an actor is supposed to be startled by a knock at the door. If his reaction is not satisfactory, the director can resort to an expedient: when the actor happens to be at the studio again he has a shot fired behind him without his being forewarned of it. The frightened reaction can be shot now and be cut into the screen version. Nothing more strikingly shows that art has left the realm of the “beautiful semblance” which, so far, had been taken to be the only sphere where art could thrive.


The feeling of strangeness that overcomes the actor before the camera, as Pirandello describes it, is basically of the same kind as the estrangement felt before one’s own image in the mirror. But now the reflected image has become separable, transportable. And where is it transported? Before the public. Never for a moment does the screen actor cease to be conscious of this fact. While facing the camera he knows that ultimately he will face the public, the consumers who constitute the market. This market, where he offers not only his labor but also his whole self, his heart and soul, is beyond his reach. During the shooting he has as little contact with it as any article made in a factory. This may contribute to that oppression, that new anxiety which, according to Pirandello, grips the actor before the camera. The film responds to the shriveling of the aura with an artificial build-up of the “personality” outside the studio. The cult of the movie star, fostered by the money of the film industry, preserves not the unique aura of the person but the “spell of the personality,” the phony spell of a commodity. So long as the movie-makers’ capital sets the fashion, as a rule no other revolutionary merit can be accredited to today’s film than the promotion of a revolutionary criticism of traditional concepts of art. We do not deny that in some cases today’s films can also promote revolutionary criticism of social conditions, even of the distribution of property. However, our present study is no more specifically concerned with this than is the film production of Western Europe.

It is inherent in the technique of the film as well as that of sports that everybody who witnesses its accomplishments is somewhat of an expert. This is obvious to anyone listening to a group of newspaper boys leaning on their bicycles and discussing the outcome of a bicycle race. It is not for nothing that newspaper publishers arrange races for their delivery boys. These arouse great interest among the participants, for the victor has an opportunity to rise from delivery boy to professional racer. Similarly, the newsreel offers everyone the opportunity to rise from passer-by to movie extra. In this way any man might even find himself part of a work of art, as witness Vertov’s Three Songs About Lenin or Ivens’ Borinage. Any man today can lay claim to being filmed. This claim can best be elucidated by a comparative look at the historical situation of contemporary literature.

For centuries a small number of writers were confronted by many thousands of readers. This changed toward the end of the last century. With the increasing extension of the press, which kept placing new political, religious, scientific, professional, and local organs before the readers, an increasing number of readers became writers – at first, occasional ones. It began with the daily press opening to its readers space for “letters to the editor.” And today there is hardly a gainfully employed European who could not, in principle, find an opportunity to publish somewhere or other comments on his work, grievances, documentary reports, or that sort of thing. Thus, the distinction between author and public is about to lose its basic character. The difference becomes merely functional; it may vary from case to case. At any moment the reader is ready to turn into a writer. As expert, which he had to become willy-nilly in an extremely specialized work process, even if only in some minor respect, the reader gains access to authorship. In the Soviet Union work itself is given a voice. To present it verbally is part of a man’s ability to perform the work. Literary license is now founded on polytechnic rather than specialized training and thus becomes common property.

All this can easily be applied to the film, where transitions that in literature took centuries have come about in a decade. In cinematic practice, particularly in Russia, this change-over has partially become established reality. Some of the players whom we meet in Russian films are not actors in our sense but people who portray themselves and primarily in their own work process. In Western Europe the capitalistic exploitation of the film denies consideration to modern man’s legitimate claim to being reproduced. Under these circumstances the film industry is trying hard to spur the interest of the masses through illusion-promoting spectacles and dubious speculations.


The shooting of a film, especially of a sound film, affords a spectacle unimaginable anywhere at any time before this. It presents a process in which it is impossible to assign to a spectator a viewpoint which would exclude from the actual scene such extraneous accessories as camera equipment, lighting machinery, staff assistants, etc. – unless his eye were on a line parallel with the lens. This circumstance, more than any other, renders superficial and insignificant any possible similarity between a scene in the studio and one on the stage. In the theater one is well aware of the place from which the play cannot immediately be detected as illusionary. There is no such place for the movie scene that is being shot. Its illusionary nature is that of the second degree, the result of cutting. That is to say, in the studio the mechanical equipment has penetrated so deeply into reality that its pure aspect freed from the foreign substance of equipment is the result of a special procedure, namely, the shooting by the specially adjusted camera and the mounting of the shot together with other similar ones. The equipment-free aspect of reality here has become the height of artifice; the sight of immediate reality has become an orchid in the land of technology.

Even more revealing is the comparison of these circumstances, which differ so much from those of the theater, with the situation in painting. Here the question is: How does the cameraman compare with the painter? To answer this we take recourse to an analogy with a surgical operation. The surgeon represents the polar opposite of the magician. The magician heals a sick person by the laying on of hands; the surgeon cuts into the patient’s body. The magician maintains the natural distance between the patient and himself; though he reduces it very slightly by the laying on of hands, he greatly increases it by virtue of his authority. The surgeon does exactly the reverse; he greatly diminishes the distance between himself and the patient by penetrating into the patient’s body, and increases it but little by the caution with which his hand moves among the organs. In short, in contrast to the magician - who is still hidden in the medical practitioner – the surgeon at the decisive moment abstains from facing the patient man to man; rather, it is through the operation that he penetrates into him.

Magician and surgeon compare to painter and cameraman. The painter maintains in his work a natural distance from reality, the cameraman penetrates deeply into its web. There is a tremendous difference between the pictures they obtain. That of the painter is a total one, that of the cameraman consists of multiple fragments which are assembled under a new law. Thus, for contemporary man the representation of reality by the film is incomparably more significant than that of the painter, since it offers, precisely because of the thoroughgoing permeation of reality with mechanical equipment, an aspect of reality which is free of all equipment. And that is what one is entitled to ask from a work of art.


Mechanical reproduction of art changes the reaction of the masses toward art. The reactionary attitude toward a Picasso painting changes into the progressive reaction toward a Chaplin movie. The progressive reaction is characterized by the direct, intimate fusion of visual and emotional enjoyment with the orientation of the expert. Such fusion is of great social significance. The greater the decrease in the social significance of an art form, the sharper the distinction between criticism and enjoyment by the public. The conventional is uncritically enjoyed, and the truly new is criticized with aversion. With regard to the screen, the critical and the receptive attitudes of the public coincide. The decisive reason for this is that individual reactions are predetermined by the mass audience response they are about to produce, and this is nowhere more pronounced than in the film. The moment these responses become manifest they control each other. Again, the comparison with painting is fruitful. A painting has always had an excellent chance to be viewed by one person or by a few. The simultaneous contemplation of paintings by a large public, such as developed in the nineteenth century, is an early symptom of the crisis of painting, a crisis which was by no means occasioned exclusively by photography but rather in a relatively independent manner by the appeal of art works to the masses.

Painting simply is in no position to present an object for simultaneous collective experience, as it was possible for architecture at all times, for the epic poem in the past, and for the movie today. Although this circumstance in itself should not lead one to conclusions about the social role of painting, it does constitute a serious threat as soon as painting, under special conditions and, as it were, against its nature, is confronted directly by the masses. In the churches and monasteries of the Middle Ages and at the princely courts up to the end of the eighteenth century, a collective reception of paintings did not occur simultaneously, but by graduated and hierarchized mediation. The change that has come about is an expression of the particular conflict in which painting was implicated by the mechanical reproducibility of paintings. Although paintings began to be publicly exhibited in galleries and salons, there was no way for the masses to organize and control themselves in their reception. Thus the same public which responds in a progressive manner toward a grotesque film is bound to respond in a reactionary manner to surrealism.


The characteristics of the film lie not only in the manner in which man presents himself to mechanical equipment but also in the manner in which, by means of this apparatus, man can represent his environment. A glance at occupational psychology illustrates the testing capacity of the equipment. Psychoanalysis illustrates it in a different perspective. The film has enriched our field of perception with methods which can be illustrated by those of Freudian theory. Fifty years ago, a slip of the tongue passed more or less unnoticed. Only exceptionally may such a slip have revealed dimensions of depth in a conversation which had seemed to be taking its course on the surface. Since the Psychopathology of Everyday Life things have changed. This book isolated and made analyzable things which had heretofore floated along unnoticed in the broad stream of perception. For the entire spectrum of optical, and now also acoustical, perception the film has brought about a similar deepening of apperception. It is only an obverse of this fact that behavior items shown in a movie can be analyzed much more precisely and from more points of view than those presented on paintings or on the stage. As compared with painting, filmed behavior lends itself more readily to analysis because of its incomparably more precise statements of the situation. In comparison with the stage scene, the filmed behavior item lends itself more readily to analysis because it can be isolated more easily. This circumstance derives its chief importance from its tendency to promote the mutual penetration of art and science. Actually, of a screened behavior item which is neatly brought out in a certain situation, like a muscle of a body, it is difficult to say which is more fascinating, its artistic value or its value for science. To demonstrate the identity of the artistic and scientific uses of photography which heretofore usually were separated will be one of the revolutionary functions of the film.

By close-ups of the things around us, by focusing on hidden details of familiar objects, by exploring common place milieus under the ingenious guidance of the camera, the film, on the one hand, extends our comprehension of the necessities which rule our lives; on the other hand, it manages to assure us of an immense and unexpected field of action. Our taverns and our metropolitan streets, our offices and furnished rooms, our railroad stations and our factories appeared to have us locked up hopelessly. Then came the film and burst this prison-world asunder by the dynamite of the tenth of a second, so that now, in the midst of its far-flung ruins and debris, we calmly and adventurously go traveling. With the close-up, space expands; with slow motion, movement is extended. The enlargement of a snapshot does not simply render more precise what in any case was visible, though unclear: it reveals entirely new structural formations of the subject. So, too, slow motion not only presents familiar qualities of movement but reveals in them entirely unknown ones “which, far from looking like retarded rapid movements, give the effect of singularly gliding, floating, supernatural motions.” Evidently a different nature opens itself to the camera than opens to the naked eye – if only because an unconsciously penetrated space is substituted for a space consciously explored by man. Even if one has a general knowledge of the way people walk, one knows nothing of a person’s posture during the fractional second of a stride. The act of reaching for a lighter or a spoon is familiar routine, yet we hardly know what really goes on between hand and metal, not to mention how this fluctuates with our moods. Here the camera intervenes with the resources of its lowerings and liftings, its interruptions and isolations, it extensions and accelerations, its enlargements and reductions. The camera introduces us to unconscious optics as does psychoanalysis to unconscious impulses.


One of the foremost tasks of art has always been the creation of a demand which could be fully satisfied only later. The history of every art form shows critical epochs in which a certain art form aspires to effects which could be fully obtained only with a changed technical standard, that is to say, in a new art form. The extravagances and crudities of art which thus appear, particularly in the so-called decadent epochs, actually arise from the nucleus of its richest historical energies. In recent years, such barbarisms were abundant in Dadaism. It is only now that its impulse becomes discernible: Dadaism attempted to create by pictorial – and literary – means the effects which the public today seeks in the film.

Every fundamentally new, pioneering creation of demands will carry beyond its goal. Dadaism did so to the extent that it sacrificed the market values which are so characteristic of the film in favor of higher ambitions – though of course it was not conscious of such intentions as here described. The Dadaists attached much less importance to the sales value of their work than to its usefulness for contemplative immersion. The studied degradation of their material was not the least of their means to achieve this uselessness. Their poems are “word salad” containing obscenities and every imaginable waste product of language. The same is true of their paintings, on which they mounted buttons and tickets. What they intended and achieved was a relentless destruction of the aura of their creations, which they branded as reproductions with the very means of production. Before a painting of Arp’s or a poem by August Stramm it is impossible to take time for contemplation and evaluation as one would before a canvas of Derain’s or a poem by Rilke. In the decline of middle-class society, contemplation became a school for asocial behavior; it was countered by distraction as a variant of social conduct. Dadaistic activities actually assured a rather vehement distraction by making works of art the center of scandal. One requirement was foremost: to outrage the public.

From an alluring appearance or persuasive structure of sound the work of art of the Dadaists became an instrument of ballistics. It hit the spectator like a bullet, it happened to him, thus acquiring a tactile quality. It promoted a demand for the film, the distracting element of which is also primarily tactile, being based on changes of place and focus which periodically assail the spectator. Let us compare the screen on which a film unfolds with the canvas of a painting. The painting invites the spectator to contemplation; before it the spectator can abandon himself to his associations. Before the movie frame he cannot do so. No sooner has his eye grasped a scene than it is already changed. It cannot be arrested. Duhamel, who detests the film and knows nothing of its significance, though something of its structure, notes this circumstance as follows: “I can no longer think what I want to think. My thoughts have been replaced by moving images.” The spectator’s process of association in view of these images is indeed interrupted by their constant, sudden change. This constitutes the shock effect of the film, which, like all shocks, should be cushioned by heightened presence of mind. By means of its technical structure, the film has taken the physical shock effect out of the wrappers in which Dadaism had, as it were, kept it inside the moral shock effect.


The mass is a matrix from which all traditional behavior toward works of art issues today in a new form. Quantity has been transmuted into quality. The greatly increased mass of participants has produced a change in the mode of participation. The fact that the new mode of participation first appeared in a disreputable form must not confuse the spectator. Yet some people have launched spirited attacks against precisely this superficial aspect. Among these, Duhamel has expressed himself in the most radical manner. What he objects to most is the kind of participation which the movie elicits from the masses. Duhamel calls the movie “a pastime for helots, a diversion for uneducated, wretched, worn-out creatures who are consumed by their worries a spectacle which requires no concentration and presupposes no intelligence which kindles no light in the heart and awakens no hope other than the ridiculous one of someday becoming a ‘star’ in Los Angeles.” Clearly, this is at bottom the same ancient lament that the masses seek distraction whereas art demands concentration from the spectator. That is a commonplace.

The question remains whether it provides a platform for the analysis of the film. A closer look is needed here. Distraction and concentration form polar opposites which may be stated as follows: A man who concentrates before a work of art is absorbed by it. He enters into this work of art the way legend tells of the Chinese painter when he viewed his finished painting. In contrast, the distracted mass absorbs the work of art. This is most obvious with regard to buildings. Architecture has always represented the prototype of a work of art the reception of which is consummated by a collectivity in a state of distraction. The laws of its reception are most instructive.

Buildings have been man’s companions since primeval times. Many art forms have developed and perished. Tragedy begins with the Greeks, is extinguished with them, and after centuries its “rules” only are revived. The epic poem, which had its origin in the youth of nations, expires in Europe at the end of the Renaissance. Panel painting is a creation of the Middle Ages, and nothing guarantees its uninterrupted existence. But the human need for shelter is lasting. Architecture has never been idle. Its history is more ancient than that of any other art, and its claim to being a living force has significance in every attempt to comprehend the relationship of the masses to art. Buildings are appropriated in a twofold manner: by use and by perception – or rather, by touch and sight. Such appropriation cannot be understood in terms of the attentive concentration of a tourist before a famous building. On the tactile side there is no counterpart to contemplation on the optical side. Tactile appropriation is accomplished not so much by attention as by habit. As regards architecture, habit determines to a large extent even optical reception. The latter, too, occurs much less through rapt attention than by noticing the object in incidental fashion. This mode of appropriation, developed with reference to architecture, in certain circumstances acquires canonical value. For the tasks which face the human apparatus of perception at the turning points of history cannot be solved by optical means, that is, by contemplation, alone. They are mastered gradually by habit, under the guidance of tactile appropriation.

The distracted person, too, can form habits. More, the ability to master certain tasks in a state of distraction proves that their solution has become a matter of habit. Distraction as provided by art presents a covert control of the extent to which new tasks have become soluble by apperception. Since, moreover, individuals are tempted to avoid such tasks, art will tackle the most difficult and most important ones where it is able to mobilize the masses. Today it does so in the film. Reception in a state of distraction, which is increasing noticeably in all fields of art and is symptomatic of profound changes in apperception, finds in the film its true means of exercise. The film with its shock effect meets this mode of reception halfway. The film makes the cult value recede into the background not only by putting the public in the position of the critic, but also by the fact that at the movies this position requires no attention. The public is an examiner, but an absent-minded one.


The growing proletarianization of modern man and the increasing formation of masses are two aspects of the same process. Fascism attempts to organize the newly created proletarian masses without affecting the property structure which the masses strive to eliminate. Fascism sees its salvation in giving these masses not their right, but instead a chance to express themselves. The masses have a right to change property relations; Fascism seeks to give them an expression while preserving property. The logical result of Fascism is the introduction of aesthetics into political life. The violation of the masses, whom Fascism, with its Führer cult, forces to their knees, has its counterpart in the violation of an apparatus which is pressed into the production of ritual values.

All efforts to render politics aesthetic culminate in one thing: war. War and war only can set a goal for mass movements on the largest scale while respecting the traditional property system. This is the political formula for the situation. The technological formula may be stated as follows: Only war makes it possible to mobilize all of today’s technical resources while maintaining the property system. It goes without saying that the Fascist apotheosis of war does not employ such arguments. Still, Marinetti says in his manifesto on the Ethiopian colonial war:

“For twenty-seven years we Futurists have rebelled against the branding of war as anti-aesthetic ... Accordingly we state:... War is beautiful because it establishes man’s dominion over the subjugated machinery by means of gas masks, terrifying megaphones, flame throwers, and small tanks. War is beautiful because it initiates the dreamt-of metalization of the human body. War is beautiful because it enriches a flowering meadow with the fiery orchids of machine guns. War is beautiful because it combines the gunfire, the cannonades, the cease-fire, the scents, and the stench of putrefaction into a symphony. War is beautiful because it creates new architecture, like that of the big tanks, the geometrical formation flights, the smoke spirals from burning villages, and many others ... Poets and artists of Futurism! ... remember these principles of an aesthetics of war so that your struggle for a new literature and a new graphic art ... may be illumined by them!”

This manifesto has the virtue of clarity. Its formulations deserve to be accepted by dialecticians. To the latter, the aesthetics of today’s war appears as follows: If the natural utilization of productive forces is impeded by the property system, the increase in technical devices, in speed, and in the sources of energy will press for an unnatural utilization, and this is found in war. The destructiveness of war furnishes proof that society has not been mature enough to incorporate technology as its organ, that technology has not been sufficiently developed to cope with the elemental forces of society. The horrible features of imperialistic warfare are attributable to the discrepancy between the tremendous means of production and their inadequate utilization in the process of production – in other words, to unemployment and the lack of markets. Imperialistic war is a rebellion of technology which collects, in the form of “human material,” the claims to which society has denied its natural materrial. Instead of draining rivers, society directs a human stream into a bed of trenches; instead of dropping seeds from airplanes, it drops incendiary bombs over cities; and through gas warfare the aura is abolished in a new way.

“Fiat ars – pereat mundus”, says Fascism, and, as Marinetti admits, expects war to supply the artistic gratification of a sense perception that has been changed by technology. This is evidently the consummation of “l’art pour l’art.” Mankind, which in Homer’s time was an object of contemplation for the Olympian gods, now is one for itself. Its self-alienation has reached such a degree that it can experience its own destruction as an aesthetic pleasure of the first order. This is the situation of politics which Fascism is rendering aesthetic. Communism responds by politicizing art.

above copied from:

Take a Chance on Me: An Essay on the Mediation of the Contemporary Condition, Thore Soneson

"…time stands still in a raging speed, like an north american soap; rich in superficial drama, poor on development and coherence. Therefore the most fundamental project for the 21:st centrury would be: Demand control over time! Demand the right to be inaccessible, to slow time, to peaceful studies without the noise from the transmitters of trash in informationsociety, demand time to understand how we got here and how we can reclaim control over our own time." (1)

We live our present lifes in a crossfire of media, of stories and messages. Immersed in digital moviechannels, programmed with prepacked human interest and testimonials. We constantly decode messages, every second awake in mediasociety consists of a chase to comprehend. We live in a multimedial game dramatization, staged on web-site after web-site. We are forced to make choices, navigate according to your wishes, be constantly aware of our needs and act as a skilled hyper-text strategist.

This increasing and exploding amount of content and saleable interactivity can if continued, lead to a collapse of meaning; a state of overwhelming frustration, where the art of listening to another human being is exchanged with another quest set up by gamecreators – our urge to constantly seek new opportunities, new frontiers.

Contemplate for a while on the antropologist Hylland Eriksens opening line in the quote: "…time stands still in a raging speed like an north american soap; rich in superficial drama, poor on development and coherence." In his essay he deliberately throws incendiary torches, his viewpoints are delivered in a polemic rage. But he shares the manifest moral with a growing number of critics of media trivialities. How can we handle this condition ? How can we create unique experiences in this massive explosion of expressions ?

The Sublime

One possible road to investigate would be to recover the intensity of experience. The quality Jean-Francois Lyotard termed the sublime, the ability of art to guide us to an experience of the now – "It happens" – reclaiming the moment of experience as alive with meaning. The term "It happens" constitute for Lyotard a reverence for the experience we feel before we put words to what we feel.

One method to reclaim the experience in an age where narrative models are emptied and banal, would be to accept the collapse of meaning. To create an univere of content – text, images, thoughts, scenes – and let the machine take over. Let a randomizer generate paths for the narrative to take, leave the choice of which content to link to and what experiences to relive.
To bring meaning to such a model, we must agree on a fundamental thesis – all human communication is an experience. The process at work in art is that of an constant exchance between individuals. Or as put by the philosopher Hans-Georg Gadamer :

"The work of art has it's true being in the fact that it becomes an experience that changes the person who experiences it. The "subject" of the experience of the art, that which remains and endures, is not the subjectivity of the person who experiences it but the work itself. ... All presentation is potentially a representation for someone. That this possibility is intended is the characteristic feature of art as play. " (2)

This awareness of the process in art that it reaches its full meaning first in the eye of the beholder is a definition on one of the fundamentals in human nature – our capability to communicate.

We are actors in an ongoing process, active in a game of meaning and expression. Not, as so often in the traditional narrative structure, at the recieving end of a pre-packaged dramatization with a fixed morale and ending. To use an element of chance as a strategy to vitalize narration would be one method to eliminate the passive reciever.

In Contrast to One-Dimensional Narrativity

The digital technology creates a kind of counterimages to the superficial and one-dimensional content in mainstream media. It opens the field of narratives for real interactivity, opens up possibilities to play with time and discard the straitjacket of the linear experience in traditional storytelling. F. Scott Fitzgerald became aware of this artistic restraint when he came to Hollywood and formulated his analysis of storytelling art in moviemaking: "It's an amazing art form. A series of scenes put in a particular order designed to leave the viewer with no choice but to feel one particular way."

Today with the impact of the digital world, moviemakers in Hollywood can create alternative story structures, beyond this straitjacket Fitzgerald identified. One such play with reality, time and identity is to be found in The Matrix (Warchowski Brothers 1999) where the story develops on severel parallel timelevels, and on top of that, in simulated realities. All levels influence each other and depend on information from the other to tell the story.

Among artists, the possibilities created by the digital tools, have opened up a whole artistic field, labelled new media. The genre's aesthetic expressions expands constantly, at an creative interplay with software creators. In common though, the new media art has the computer. In Denmark the new media art scene early establised a forum for showing and discussing digital art, the netgallery Artcritic Mette Sandbye commented the project Looped on this web-site, taking a special interest on the evolving art of digital storytelling:

"…the computer user is co-creator of the work. The work takes the form of a process; a place where something happens. Made possible with distinctive combination of every imaginable form of audio and visual, moving or still material. And the unstable condition of hypermedia, where every line is connected or can be dissolved in digital, replaceable units." (3)

The co-creation, the possibility to actively participate as a beholder, can be seen as a distinctive form of artistic communication made possible by the digital techonology. It creates an open field between artist and audience, a transgressive field that can accomodate "...the importance of defining play as a process that takes place in 'between'."(4) to quote Hans-Henrik Gadamer who claims that this "field" as fundamental for the interplay of art and communication.

still images from Soneson's interactive movie production SPEED.
Film clips and stills, quotes and fragments of monologues as text are randomly selected from a database The clock image is the navigation tool, here you make an associative choice among words that are displayed at random.

The Interactive Field

In the digital domain, research in the potentials of this open field delivers new results at an almost overwhelming rate. Every medialab with a digital programme investigates the possibilities of the interaction, the role of the interactor. The renewal of the narrative grammar and language comes from knowledge created in experiments with interaction. The digital innovations breads more voices, more potential stories that involve more people in communicative processes.

This multiplicity differs from the variety in the entertainment industry. It is based on an openess where the romantic image of the Artist as exclusive creator of meaning has been exchanged with an image of the Individual as co-creator. The artist / writer today create works with a multidimensional quality, made possible by digital technology.
The screenwriter and director no longer has en exclusive right to o n e interpretation of their work. A transparence has been created by digital media where the interplay - the game – have an important place.
At the same time, this deconstruction of the early secrets and models of drama in the setup of the interactive gameplay, can make us so active as co-creators of the stories that we lose out on the capability of emotional surprise and immersion in the drama. Our focus are shifted from content to process, from following a narrative stream to stearing a personal path over troubled waters.

"In electronic narrative the procedural author is like a choreographer who supplies the rhytms, the context, and the set of steps that will be performed. The interactor, whether as navigator, protagonist, explorer, or builder, makes use of this repertoire of possible steps and rhytms to improvise a particular dance among the many, many possible dances the author has enbled." Hamlet on the Holodeck, Janet H. Murray (5)

Again, making the element of chance attractive in the setup of a digital narration, can be a method to transform the focus on catharsis that is so dominant in traditional storytelling into another narrative form; catharsis being the point where meaning and coherence traditionally is created for the audience. Interactivity and non-linear storytelling opens up for this intensity of experience that Lyotard named "the sublime". This experience is created before language, before explanation, before structure. Here we can trace the roots of attraction inherent in the elements of chance. Chance is freed from "planned" meaning and goal. Chance can re-create the moments of "it happens" as defined by Lyotard in our contemporary stories.

In the digital landscape chance can be the tool that again opens our eyes for stories and their possibilities to carry thoughts, emotions and experience. Since chance per defininition cannot be programmed with an intention or purpose, it can bring life to the play. It can open up communication and the quality Gadamer sees as immanent in the human exchange of experiences - "All presentation is potentially a representation for someone. That this possibility is intended is the characteristic feature of art as play. " (6)

© THORE SONESON / 2001-01-12


(1) Hylland Eriksen, Thomas "Ögonblickets tyranni gör oss historielösa" article in daily paper, Sydsvenska Dagbladet 1999 12 27 ( my own translation to english )
(2) Gadamer, Hans-Georg chapter "Play as the Clue to Ontological Explanation" Wahrheit und Methode p102-103, (1960)
(3) Sandbye, Mette Looped from cataloque to exhibition "100 teckningar" ( Köpenhamn 1999)
(4) se footnote 2
(5) 4. s.153, chapter "The Aesthetics of the Medium", in "Hamlet on the Holodeck", Janet H. Murray (1997), senior research scientist at MIT, Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
(6) se footnote 2

Thore Soneson holds an MA degree at Malmö University - Art and Communication, as creative producer, 1999 / 2001. He has professional experiences as a writer / producer of new media with SPEED an interactive CD-rom (Exhibited at NIC 2001, Nordic Interactive Conference,Copenhagen), THE STORY OF A, interactive movie script, 2002-4 (work in progress), IN SEARCH OF THE MILITANT CODE scenario contribution to Michael Johanssons project FIELDASY 2002. He has written scripts for feature film and television, among them NEMESIS DIVINA, feature film script 2002, THE SEVENTH SHOT feature film, scriptwriter, 1998, PASSION multimedia performance MALMÖ KONSTHALL, scriptwriter, videodirector, 1995. For more info on SPEED the paper and other media work visit

above copied from:

Database Aesthetics: Issues of Organization and Category in Online Art, Sharon Daniel

Collaborative Systems: evolving databases and the 'conditions of possibility' -- artificial life models of agency in on-line interactive art.


This paper will discuss interactive on-line artworks modeled on cellular automata that employ various types of agents, both algorithmic and human, to assist in the evolution of their databases. These works constitute what will here be referred to as "Collaborative Systems," systems that evolve through the practice of inter-authorship.

for a full version of thei essay with illustraitions see:

I. Evolving Databases and the 'Conditions of Possibility'

Collaborative Systems are experiential frameworks where individuals and technologies interact and collaborate to generate and regenerate their environment. The conceptual structure and temporal development of Collaborative Systems parallels that of Cellular Automata Worlds modeled in Artificial-Life research.[1] These "worlds" or models suggest a paradigm shift for art practice from the 'pursuit of truth' to the preparation of a "conditions of possibility." Physicist Werner Heisenberg[2] posited the simultaneous absence and presence of matter -- where every object can be understood both as a localized point (finite, bounded, specific) and as a variably distributed wave function (spreading infinitely.) Similar contradictions and potentialities are contained in the notion of "conditions of possibility." This concept moves beyond the interpretation of "uncertainty" as the collapse of the separation between subject and object to establish a field of activity with degrees of freedom for forces of dynamic interaction.

Quantum Physics locates the interaction of or exchange between two separate physical systems to a "field" that extends from one to the other. In physics a "field" is a region under some influence, such as gravitation. Outside the context of physics, "field" is also defined as "a complex of forces that serve as causative agents in human behavior."[3] These definitions of "interaction" and "field" help describe interactivity (or inter-authorship) in the "field" (or framework) of on-line artworks modeled on the spatially and temporally distributed dynamics of cellular automata -- a model which can be manifested in collaborative systems.

figure 1.1 - development of a two dimensional cellular automata
figure 1.2 - development of a three dimensional cellular automata

In Cellular Automata machines: a new environment for modeling[4] Thomaso Toffoli and Norman Margolus maintain that cellular automata "...are the computer scientist's counterpart to the physicist's concept of "field." A cellular automata is a "computing space." A description of the Cellular Automata Machine (CAM8), a massively parallel computer architecture designed by Toffoli and Margolus, offers a general example of the structure of cellular automata.

figure 1.3 - images from Signal-to-Noise were processed by the CAM8 (click for a larger image)

These images from the web project Signal to Noise [5], were processed with the Cellular Automata Machine. Signal to Noise explores the emergence of global systems from associative, random or interpretive interactions between texts and images on the web.

The CAM8 was built to model systems that extend in space and evolve in time according to local laws. It uses iterative steps to process data in real-time. In the CAM8, each pixel may "behave" independently at each "step" based on a table of rules and a given initial condition. In the case of the CAM8, the table of rules is a set of definitions for the behavior of each pixel or cell in relation to the state of each neighboring pixel or cell. Given any initial condition, a global state (a pattern or image) emerges from the local interactions of discrete entities in an iterative and constantly evolving system.

In collaborative systems, both the initial condition of the system (the state or condition of the field or world at the first step of evolution), and its rule-table (directions for the behavior and interaction of its "cells"), are databases. The conceptual structure and temporal development of collaborative systems parallel that of cellular automata; however, a collaborative system incorporates human participants, artificially intelligent agents, algorithmic entities and/or associative networks in the location of the individual "cells" of a cellular automata. Each of these acts as an agent - playing a role in the "inter-authorship" of the system.

In a collaborative system, as in a cellular automata, these individual "cells" populate a field or frame; the field is a representation, analogous to the biological term phenotype, while the rule table is a description analogous to the term genotype.[6] "Representation" and "description" are terms are that are too situated in traditional aesthetic discourse to be used in this context, since they refer to static viewer/object systems rather than dynamic interactive systems. The terms phenotype and genotype are more useful here since they refer to emergent and evolutionary behavior. Thus the field or world frame embodies a database of "phenotype" and the rule table comprises database of "genotype."

A collaborative system frames a field of potential for human/machine interaction which challenges accepted models of authorship and necessitates a radical rethinking of aesthetics. This suggest the possibility of an aesthetics of "Database"

The term "Data" originated as the plural of the Latin word datum, meaning "something given."[7] In the world of experience our datum is our socially constructed, cultural context. Similarly, in the case of collaborative systems that "something given" is the database - a collection of associations, images, and texts -- a context. The database is a structure that persists while its content evolves and is displaced. It is relational and non-hierarchical. It comprises an initial condition or world-state at any moment in the evolution of a system.

"Aesthetics" has traditionally meant "a particular theory or conception of beauty."[8] A "conception" of the "beauty" of a database is not located in the viewer's interpretation of a static form but in the dynamics of how a user inflects the database through interaction with its field or frame. A database incorporates contradiction; it is simultaneously recombinant and indexical, precise and scaleable, immersive and emergent, homogeneous and heterogeneous. It is a field of coherence and contradiction. The aesthetic dimensions of the database arise when the user traverses this field of unresolved contradictions. The database is comprised of nested subfields which are activated, and given ontological status, by the user's trajectory through it's field. Continuously emergent ontological states resolve as new subfields from each interaction and are integrated into the field - changing and transforming the content and structure of that field and constituting the "art object" as a continuously evolving and fluid system. These are the conditions of possibility of a "database aesthetics."

An argument for the "conditions of possibility" of database aesthetics can be "grounded" in the analysis of systems found in the world.

The following four "found" systems provide external evidence of and extended context for, database aesthetics.[9]

1. Found System - Paris Catacomb

figure 2.1 - details of Paris Catacombs (click for a larger image)

The Parisian Catacombs constitute a massive database of the dead, embodied in an immersive environment. After a long, winding descent, narrow, stone corridors suddenly transform into stacks and rows of human skulls and femurs ten feet in depth and rising eight - lining what appears to be an infinitely receding passageway. Shock registers in sudden breathlessness. Immersion here means immersion in a monumental volume of loss and decay. But after this first bodily response, the response-type that is the locus of traditional aesthetics, ones perception shifts to the obsessive, repetitive, endless, stacking, ordering, patterning, and cataloging of human remains. These remains are organized and categorized; identified in groups by their location of origin in once consecrated graves. Identity and location have been displaced by a general categorization of fragments which constitutes a field. Each particular body as organic whole is lost. Its history and context subsumed in subfields.

The algorithm which constructs the catacomb is as follows: exhume skeletons, reduce individual skeletons to skull and femur, remove fragments to catacomb, situate in subfield identified with graveyard of origin. This algorithm is the genotype which produces the subfield as phenotype.

In this example, database aesthetics works through displacement that resolves into a pattern which constitutes an immersive, phenomenal space. The Paris Catacomb was once a dynamic system that has ceased to evolve.

2. Found System - St. Chapelle

The Chapel as a whole is an information system with a nested or "whole-to-part" structural organization. This structure was designed to regulate temporal and social experience.

The walls of the upper chapel are formed by fifteen stained glass windows which comprise the data-field of the chapel. Each window is divided into subfields, or self-contained individual panels. No two panels are alike. This idiosyncratic differentiation is mediated by the ordering frame of the chapel's architecture, which produces the appearance of a coherent pattern. The aesthetic experience is one of oscillation between the impact of the architectural phenotype, or field, and the stimulus of the visual and narrative genotypes of the windows and their individual panels, or nested subfields.

Each panel or groupings of panels has a narrative structure meant didactically to prescribe a moral code and outline a spiritual practice. Together, the panels function as an immersive rule table. Parishioners are meant to emulate the characters depicted in the stories, and structure their social interactions accordingly.

The experience of the chapel for a parishioner was time based; the illumination of the chapel database is subject to the cycles of night and day, and to the longer units of yearly seasonal change. The chapel is therefore a clock which temporally orders the live of its members as well as a social and moral handbook that regulates their behavior.

figure 2.2 - sequenced detail of the chapel and canopy at St. Chapelle

3. Found System - Nature Demiurge[10]

Insects from the collection of Anne and Jacques Kerchache were exhibited at the Cartier Foundation like a collection of precious jewels. Identical, velvet-lined, vitrines embedded in the walls at eye level circumscribed the gallery in a single, luminous, line. Each elegant display case contained a number of specimens from a particular species of insect. The specimens in each case were nearly identical to each other. Only subtle variations in pattern or color could be detected upon close inspection. The exhibition constituted a data-base of continuos differentiation - a play of difference along a spectra of metonymically arranged data. The focus of the exhibition as a whole was the demiurge -- the pattern of patterning, or the design of designing. Through a strategy of iteration, the collection of individual cases displayed the inescapable interweaving of the homogeneous and the heterogeneous.

In incremental steps the variety of pattern within the strict parameters of a "world" or species was expressed. The range of difference was so small that field and subfield were nearly coextensive. Nested within each subfield, the metonymy operates at the level of individual specimens. For example, the iteration of difference in pattern across the individual wings of one butterfly.

One case contained a butterfly with a wing pattern with "eyespots" comprised of a two dimensional border encircling a form which appeared to be rendered in three dimensions. On each of the four wing segments the "rendered" form was similar in "style" but unique in size and shape. This was true of each of the eight specimens. Of the examples of this species exhibited, no two "rendered" forms were identical though their location, scale, "style" were consistent. The "style" of the rendering was equivalent to a hatched and shaded, volumetric and perspectival, charcoal drawing. The volumes thus "rendered" were complex, organic, topologies - resembling droplets of water. These intricate representations formed a subfield that indicated the complexity and - in some sense - intelligence of the genotype.

figure 2.3 - nature demiurge

4. Found System - Venice

The database for the "conditions of possibility" of the city of Venice is a field defined by excess and necessity, decadence and survival. Here water, architecture, commerce, and tourism comprise a system that is both emergent and immersive - a physical and historical "collaborative system." The lagoon and canals frame the complex fields and subfields of the city while, simultaneously, the city frames their tidal flow. Venice is a body floating, suspended in its' own fluids. Water contains and fills, encompasses and embodies it. Its construction was an expression of power counter- balanced by its own impossibility.

The vector that traverses the field of Venice is the loss of perspective. Venice is a manifestation in experience of the condition of schizophrenia. There is no way to get one's bearings on the relation of past to present and present to future. If, as a tourist, one wanders in the city then any street, campo, canal, or fondamente is the way (or means) and the end. The experience is immersive. There is no possibility of objectivity. No matter how many maps of the city one has it is impossible not to get lost. Every small alleyway, canal, campo, fondamente, has several names - or rather, each may be individually named and all the names represent the same physical point but from different frames of reference or perspective locations. It is possible to consult many maps of Venice of varying degrees of scale, detail and resolution, overlaying map upon map. Maps representing different and multiple perspectives leave one always in some sense lost -- as no one map or combination of maps coincides with one's own immediate subjective and physical location. To "lose ones way" in the city would be oxymoronic -- it is the condition of being in Venice, as such. After all, where is one attempting to go? One is constrained by the limit-frame of the "world" or system which both frames an empty space and re-constitutes a new field. In this context the movement of an individual is linked to the movements, constraints, and containments of light, sound, and water within the system of canals and fondamenta. This interdependency functions like a four dimensional mesh where the displacement of one node or intersection necessarily distorts the surface of the whole, collapsing and expanding the individual interstices accordingly. A tourist in Venice is a wave function.

figure 2.4 - Venice water systems

Agency and Database

An aesthetics of database is located in a user's, or agents', interaction with its field or frame. The phrase "intelligent agent" implies an automatic process that can communicate with other processes to perform some collective task on behalf of one or more humans[11] -- a model based on the "phenotype" and its utility. In collaborative systems this definition of agency is expanded. Here, agents may be conceived as entities rather than instruments. An agent, either human or algorithmic, can be a force or substance that causes change within the system, as in a chemical reaction.

Human participants in a collaborative system operate, either intuitively or intentionally, in response to "rule-tables" given in the system as well as rules established by the social construction of "the subject". For Human "cells" or participants history or cultural context may function as the "initial condition" of a system.

The human participant interacts with algorithmic agents or cells whose behavior is prescribed by a set of rules given in the design of the system - for example a genetic algorithm, a Boolean search mechanism or a random number generator.

In "On-Line Language Games"[12] Warren Sack questions the emphasis on "problem-solving" in computer program design. Citing educator Paolo Freire's notion of "problematization" as a possible alternative to "problem-solving," Sack proposes that -"Rather than seeing new technologies as solutions, one can see them as entities that pose questions."

In collaborative systems agents of all types initiate questions and interact to evolve environments and/or experiences. Problematization as opposed to problem solving is central to the function of algorithmic agents in collaborative systems.

The following are projects which demonstrate four types of problematizing algorithmic agents: Chaotic, Random, Destructive and Schizophrenic...[13]

1. Chaotic Agency: "Strange Attraction: Non-Logical Phase-Lock over Space-Like Intervals" -- an Installation [14]

Image - Strange Attraction

figure 3.1 - Strange Attraction installation detail (click for a larger image)

figure 3.2 - Strange Attraction diagram (click for a larger image)

figure 3.3 - Strange Attraction installation detail (click for a larger image)

Research in Complexity and Chaos suggests temporal, spatial and perceptual models for the movement of perception into consciousness that are richer and more productive than those of classical mathematics and mechanics. For example, in chaos theory a "strange attractor" maps the infinite trajectory of a non-periodic system in phase space. Phase space allows as many dimensions or co-ordinates as there are degrees of freedom in the system to be mapped.

If the system considered is the attractor "being-in-the-world" -- as in the interactive installation "Strange Attraction: Non-Logical Phase-Lock over Space-Like Intervals" -- then the co-ordinates for 3 dimensions might be space, time and desire. Phase space will stretch and fold to incorporate infinite additional dimensions such as guilt, denial, elation, and repression--- as the symptoms of desire in its trajectory space and time are registered. A strange attractor never comes to rest and does not produce any single rhythm to the exclusion of all others -- yet a subtle order is established, that of self similarity. In any small cross section of a system the structure of the whole is described.

The installation "Strange Attraction: Non-Logical Phase-Lock Space-Like Intervals" establishes a non-periodic system, similar to that of a strange attractor. The participant acts within the system. Her actions, along with the involuntary responses generated by her actions, modify the state of the system. These modifications effect the participant's subsequent actions or experiences within the system, producing voluntary and involuntary responses that further modify the system, thus simulating, for example, the feedback loop of guilt and desire.

Electronic devices monitor each of the four participants', heartbeat, respiration, or skin resistance. Each participant involuntarily controls the transmission of sounds and images that represent her subjective location. At certain intersections of activity, these transmissions combine to form a kind of choir of inter-subjectivity. Each participant is simultaneously aware of herself as a subject with voluntary, yet partial, control over the system, and as an object - involuntarily responding to the action of another subject. Thus, a collaborative system is established.

2. Random Agency: Narrative Contingencies - An Online Collaborative System [15]

Images - Narrative Contingencies

figure 3.4 - Narrative Contingencies web interface (click for a larger image)

figure 3.5 - Narrative Contingencies image system (click for a larger image)

Narrative Contingencies, gives participants the opportunity to construct their own narratives - at the intersection of chance and interpretation. This system simultaneously acknowledges and challenges the social construction of the subject within and through narrative. It was designed to disengage the production of image and language from its ideological matrix by forcing it through complex filters of random and chance operations.

The content of the initial database and the structure of the site evolved in an iterative and associative process, incorporating random selection.

Participants are encouraged to submit images and texts that, over time, will replace those of the initial database. Through the combined agency of user interaction and chance operations the database continuously evolves. A global state - represented in the database - emerges from the local interactions of random selection and individual acts of interpretation. At any point in time any current state of the system expresses the subjective perspective of its participating users. Eventually the initial database will be completely displaced by the images and texts submitted by participating users. The system will experience an on-going and total regeneration or "sea change."

Narrative Contingencies was built based on the assumption, or belief, that -- while it is impossible to escape the image and language of the existing symbolic order it may be possible to restructure them through circumvention and dislocation. It is hoped that a participant -- who is able to arrive at a meaningful interpretation of images and texts that she herself has brought together and altered using random and chance operations -- may conclude that relations of meaning are not dependent upon the ordering intention of a single author but inherently contingent upon the subjective location of the reader or viewer.

3. Destructive Agency: "ELFnet" - Pager Network Community and Web Interface [16]

"ELFnet"[17] is an example of the use of distributed agents in a restricted communication network, destructive agency, and emergent signification systems.

Each participant in a local pager-network is provided with an alphanumeric pager. The collaborators in a local pager-network determine the structure and meaning of their local "community", the role of each individual in it and, eventually, its relation to a larger, "global" pager-network community. Each participant creates "intelligent agents" which reside on the pager network server using a simple scripting language. These " agents" extend the consciousness or identity of each participant and support their activity in the community by parsing, translating, editing and filtering communications within the network. Each participant is encouraged to create a graphical representation of her own "intelligent agent(s)" for the network's Web interface and customize the physical interface of her pager unit.

To date the function of the agents in the pager-network has been primarily either destructive or deconstructive. Participants do occasionally develop enabling agents that stimulate meaningful communication on relevant and topical issues. But, the majority of the agents developed in the network have been destructive, and competitive. These destructive agents distort, transform, steal and re-route communications. Participants in the pager-network have spontaneously evolved reactive and self-reflexive development practices. First, by writing agents that obstructed the flow and distorted the content of communication in the network. In response to this first generation of destructive agents, participants have created second, and third and fourth generation agents -- which attempt to counteract, or collaborate with, the disruptive agents already acting in the system. Communication has thus become progressively more complicated in a continuously escalating, evolving and mischievous cycle. New forms of communication and signification have actually developed within the network through the assertion and circumvention of destructive agency. In this sense "Elfnet" embodies Lacan's theory that communication is successful misunderstanding. [18]

3. Schizophrenic Agency: "Pathological Conversational Agents"

This final example, of Schizophrenic Agency, is related to research in the design and implementation of a conversational agent interface.

Schizophrenia has become a trope in contemporary critical theory. Both Frederic Jameson[19], and the collaborating authors Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari[20], appropriate this term from clinical psychology and employ it positively in the analysis and critique of the postmodern condition. In a qualitative inversion of psychoanalytic norms these authors embrace the fragmentation of the individual, autonomous subject and promote it as a real and fundamental condition of lived experience. Deleuze and Guattari's "Rhizome" and the "conditions of possibility" each affirm the coexistence of disparate or antagonistic qualities, identities, or activities as a potential release from the straight jacket of Enlightenment subjectivity and the psychoanalytic 'theory of personality'. When applied to collaborations, cultures or "worlds" these theories and the models they propose parallel ideas in Artificial-Life and Cellular Automata research.

In collaboration with researchers at UCSC's Perceptual Science Laboratory an interface is being designed which will allow participants to build animated, conversational agents. This interface will be tested in an on-line environment that will allow users to embody their "pathological" traits in an animated conversational agent and add these agents to a Collaborative System - a community of pathological agents. Each individual personality incorporates, to a greater or lesser degree, all the traits that have been defined as pathologies in clinical psychology. A "normal" personality merely exhibits these "disorders" to a degree that is acceptable within a given social or cultural context. Using the proposed interface users will be able to examine this "fuzzy logic" by modeling their pathological traits as a distributed system of embodied agents. So far, we have developed a completely animated synthetic talking head which communicates paralinguistic as well as linguistic information, and is controlled by a text-to-speech system. We plan to implement user definable avatars or character representations. The interface will provide controls and tools that will allow a user to define the appearance and emotional disposition of an agent as well as the functionality and structure of its environment. The conversational agent interface will allow direct manipulation of data through active objects and icons but will remain easily extensible through text or speech input.

This research will be utilized in a variety of applications -- one such application will be the collaborative system project "Pathologies." Each participant in "Pathologies" would construct an agent by using graphical tools and by answering questions in conversation with a basic learning agent. This "learning agent" will parse the user's answers and categorize them according to their relation to a pathological tendency. The answers will by stored by category in a database that will form the kernel of the users various pathological agents. The agents constructed by each individual participant would be located in a Collaborative System. Within this system many individual personalities would be represented by "pathological" fragments, re-purposed and redistributed as agents.


These three project examples are presented to show that In on-line interactive art database and agency can be utilized to create complex systems which emerge out of interactions between discrete elements in networks of exchange. The field or frame of a collaborative system as exemplified in both interactive art and "found systems" is:

1. An environment capable of fostering evolutionary growth and generative development,

2. A structure where systems and entities coexist in parallel, in cluster, or as subfields nested one within another, and

3. A world that can host - in the sense of a host organism - many collaborative systems, each in turn containing multiple dimensions and layers.

As stated earlier in this paper - Data, from the Latin "datum," means, "something given - a fact or proposition used to draw a conclusion." Datum also means "a point, line, or surface used as a reference as in surveying or mapping." Other important derivatives of the term "datum" include, oddly enough, the terms "render" and "surrender." Collaborative systems establish new "conditions of possibility" wherein one may; surrender the aesthetics of closed, finite, static viewer/object systems and render a new aesthetic of dynamic, interactive systems. The Datum or point of reference in western, perspectival representation is particularized - equivalent to the point of view of the autonomous subject. The Datum or point of reference in a database, or the "field" or "computing space" of a cellular automata world is multiple, nested and distributed. By rejecting the model of authorship and art practice which formed an analog to the enlightenment model of subjectivity, Collaborative systems based on artificial life research and database aesthetics re-model subjectivity and thus, re-map experience in reference to points of interaction, and lines connecting surfaces of collaboration and exchange.


1. Artificial life is the study of artificial systems that exhibit behaviour characteristic of natural living systems; self-organization, adaptation, evolution, co-evolution,.... This includes biological and chemical experiments, computer simulations, and purely theoretical endeavours. Processes occurring on molecular, social and evolutionary scales are subject to investigation. In the field of computer science Artificial Life researchers model evolutionary and emergent behavior using genetic algorithms within graphical environments. For more information on Artificial Life Research refer to Artificial Life - The quest for a new creation, by Steven Levy (Penguin). Exploring Emergence, an "active essay" by Mitchel Resnick and Brian Silverman of the Epistemology and Learning Group at MIT's Media Laboratory at presents examples of emergent behavior and cellular automata models.

2. Werner Heisenberg was part of the Copenhagen school of quantum physics and discoverer of the Principle of Uncertainty, which in popular candence states that at the quantum scale, both the location and the velocity of a partical cannot be known simultaneously because the act of observation (performed through electronmagnetic instruments) itself introduces energy into the system of particles observed thereby influencing them so that their behaviour cannot be known independently of the observer. This led to the debates about how deep uncertainty goes; the arguments centered around the "hidden variable" hypothesis which claims that some hidden variable remains to be discovered which will ultimately explain away Heisenberg's dilemma; or around the belief that there is no hidden variable awaiting discovery but that uncertainty is fundamentally a part of how nature works - in other words, the behaviors of the particles themselves are uncaused and unknown to them before they move.

3. American Heritage Electronic Dictionary, 3rd Edition, Houghton Mifflin Company, 1993

4. Toffoli, Thomaso and Norman Margolus, Cellular Automata Machines: A New Environment for Modeling, The MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass, fifth edition, 1991, p. 5.

5. Signal-to-Noise explores the emergence of global systems from associative, random or interpretive interactions between texts and images on the web.

6. A phenotype is the biological designation for the body-plan or body-shape (human body or worm) that is generated by the genotype, or chromosomal configuration unique to given organisms.

7. American Heritage Electronic Dictionary, 3rd Edition, Houghton Mifflin Company, 1993


9.I refer here to the type of aesthetic object made famous by the French painter, conceptual artist, Marcel Duchamp, which he named, "found object." Found objects are anything found in the world, often considered unauthored, and definitely not created by the artist who uses such objects, and simply designated as works of art by the artist. My term of found systems follows in this same tradition.

10. "Nature Demiurge" June-July, 1998 Foundation Cartier pour l'art contemporain.

11. From the Free On-Line Dictionary of Computing at

12.Warren Sack, "On-Line Language Games" presented at the panel Cyberspace: Trojan Horse or Roman Holiday?, Andrea Feeser and Jon Winet (organizers), College Art Association (CAA97), New York, New York, February, 1997.

13. Each of the following examples are projects concieved and designed by the author.

14.Strange Attraction:Non-Logical Phase-Lock Over Space-Like Intervals was exhibited at the Center for Advanced Visual Studies at MIT in 1994. Documentation of this interactive experience for four participants is available at

15. Narrative Contingencies may be experienced a

16.The prototype for this project was a collaboration with students at the University of California, Santa Cruz and San Jose State University's CADRE graduate program. The goal of this prototype was to study the potential to extend personality and subjectivity through artificial intelligence implemented in virtual communities via remote communications.

17.ELFNet is the acronym for "Edgar Liberation Front Network". This title was chosen by the student participants in prototype project after their reading of Exegesis by Astro Teller (Vintage, 1997)

18. See Lacan's discussion of communication as successful misunderstanding - meconnaissance. "The sense is of a failure to recognize, or misconstruction". The concept is central to Lacan's thinking since, for him, knowledge (connaissance) is inextricably bound with meconnaissance." Ecrits, "Translator�s Note," trans. Alan Sheridan, W. W. Norton and Co., 1977, p. xi. For a fuller discusion by Lacan see Ecrits, pp. 6, 15-20, 41-42, 138.

19.Frederic Jameson, Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (Duke University Press, 1991) "When that relationship breaks down, when the links of the signifying chain snap, then we have schizophrenia in the form of a rubble of distinct and unrelated signifiers. The connection between this kind of linguistic malfunction and the psyche of the schizophrenic may then be grasped by way of a twofold proposition: first, that personal identity is itself the effect of a certain temporal unification of past and future with one's present; and, second, that such active temporal unification is itself a function of language, or better still of the sentence, as it moves along its hermeneutic circle through time. If we are unable to unify the past, present, and future of the sentence, then we are similarly unable to unify the past, present, and future of our own biographical experience or psychic life. With the breakdown of the signifying chain, therefore, the schizophrenic is reduced to an experience of pure material signifiers, or, in other words, a series of pure and unrelated presents in time."

20.Deleuze, Gilles and Felix Guatrari, Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans. by Robert Hurley, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 1972, particularly "Part 4: Inroduction to Schizoanalysis." citation: "Every unconscious investment mobilizes a delirious interplay of disinvestments, of counterinvestments of overinvestments. But we have seen in this context that there were two major types of social investment, segregative and nomadic just as there were two poles of delerium: first, a paranoiac fascisizing type of pole that invests the formation of central sovereignty; overinvests it by making it the final eternal cause for all the other social forms of history; counterinvests the enclaves or the periphery; and disinvests every free "figure" of desire -- yes, I am your kind, and I belong to the superior race and class. And second, a schizorevolutionary type or pole that follows the lines of escape of desire; breaches the wall and causes flows to move; assembles its machines and its groups-in-fusion in the enclaves or at the periphery -- proceeding in an inverse fashion from that of the other pole: I am not your kind, I belong eternally to the inferior race, I am a beast, a black." Anti-Oedipus, p. 277.

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