Internet: 2021. At Lines and Nodes, the day-long conference and weekend-long film series that began today at NYU, our discussion of the aesthetic dimensions of extraction and infrastructure began with Finn Brunton’s recognition of the “infrastructural tracking shot.” In the strange sort material aesthetic Johnny Mnemonic (1995) deploys for its designs of the digital, Brunton finds an exemplar for exactly this kind of maneuver.
The Republic. Despite its famous cover featuring the Battersea Power Station, the infrastructural analysis performed in Animals (1977) is more closely attuned to the structural emanations of the beasts themselves.
It looks just like a window. “Digital Witness,” St. Vincent, via @bamendelsohn.
Supply Chain: The Game Or at least, Assembly Line: The Game… with aliens. Factorio is “a game in which you build and maintain factories.”
You will be mining resources, researching technologies, building infrastructure, automating production and fighting enemies. Use your imagination to design your factory, combine simple elements into ingenious structures, apply management skills to keep it working and finally protect it from the creatures who don’t really like you.
Who Watches the Watchers? Every life is a series of choices. Some are large, and some are small. And if logistics is the science of detail, as Jomini wrote, every life must play out as an experiment for which the outcome can never be analyzed. The details build towards a future that stands as the terrible object of an uncertain construction, wrought by every decision of existence.
But what if it wasn’t so? What if every choice, every action, could be endlessly repeated? Not with certain outcomes, but with the certainty of their difference?
Gods Will Be Watching extends the frustrating premise of its Ludum Dare entry to a complete interactive experience—or, more accurately, to an experience that can never be complete. Each scenario deposits Sergeant Burden in a landscape where he must control the outcome. Time is always the great sieve of choice, but the multitasking mechanics are simple. There are a number of actions that can be taken, but only a few can unfold in any given moment. A hostage crisis. Who will live? Who will die? Watch the hacking progress, monitor security, evaluate the condition of the hostages. Too distracted and they might take the opportunity to escape. Too aggressive and they may feel they have no other choice. Lose them and the mission will end. And there is an end, a necessary future one must eventually face. Each subsequent stage moves towards the determination of that future—escape torture, discover the cure for the world-ending virus, survive, and fight.
In the end there is no one but you who can judge the choices you make, except—maybe—the gods.
Fly me to the moon. Long before humanity had reached that closest object of our celestial imagination, we’d already imagined ways of getting there. Jules Verne’s From the Earth to the Moon (1865) offers the mighty cannon as the most efficient means of long distance travel, lunar locomotion which evokes a spatial simplicity not well realized in the harsh reality of the complex mathematics for practical travel outside of our atmosphere. Decades later Georges Méliès’s A Trip to the Moon (1902) used this inspiration for its striking image of the (potentially) blinding consequences of explosive extraterrestrial excursion.
But this was not the only option for our journey. H.G. Wells offers up the gravity-defying cavorite as the mode of travel for the adventures of The First Men in the Moon (1902)—perhaps feeling that an artillerial approach was better suited to mysterious landscapes of the Martian world. And despite the unwelcome intrusion of the mundane details of reality, the intimate closeness of our sullen satellite still retains the forceful demand of directness that Verne had seen over a century ago, just as Méliès’s realization of the fantastical wonder of the world beyond our own continues to exert an influence on the one we more generally inhabit.
An Inconvenient Force. From the results of the Tatooine Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change:
The Working Group contribution to the TIPCC’s First Assessment Report (AR1) considers cumulative evidence of climate change based on many independent scientific analyses from observations of the climate system, paleoclimate archives, theoretical studies of climate processes and simulations using climate models. It represents a first concerted attempt to address the possible long term effects on the Tatooine geological and biodiversity systems, particularly as it pertains to the current unregulated practice of water mining.
This Summary for Policymakers (SPM) follows the structure of the Working Group report. The narrative is supported by a series of overarching highlighted conclusions which, taken together, provide a concise summary. The degree of certainty in key findings in this assessment is based on the droid teams’ evaluations of underlying scientific understanding and is expressed as a qualitative level of confidence (from very low to very high) and, when possible, probabilistically with a quantified likelihood (from exceptionally unlikely to virtually certain). Confidence in the validity of a finding is based on the type, amount, quality, and consistency of evidence (e.g., data, mechanistic understanding, theory, models, expert judgment) and the degree of agreement.
Probabilistic estimates of quantified measures of uncertainty in a finding are based on statistical analysis of observations or model results, or both, and expert judgment. Where appropriate, findings are also formulated as statements of fact without using uncertainty qualifiers. The basis for substantive paragraphs in this Summary for Policymakers can be found in the chapter sections of the underlying report and in the Technical Summary.
Tale of Two Cities. Borders are the logistical mechanics of separation. In the absence of clear geographic boundaries they are little more than arbitrary divisions of space—legal fictions producing territorialized landscapes with frustratingly real consequences for the humans and nonhumans who must cross them. Sometimes porous and permeable, they can rapidly ossify into rigid and resistant markers of permanent exclusion. Perhaps the most dramatic imagination of the absurdity of these fictions is given by China Miéville’s account of the vaguely Balkan cities of Besźel and Ul Qoma in The City and the City (2009). Evoking something akin to (but different from) the absurd division of Berlin or the markers carving up Jerusalem, the mirrored cities of the book are just as evident in the class divisions of everyday urban life—neighborhoods unvisited, people unseen.
The border that separates Besźel from Ul Qoma is notable in its absence from geography. The cities overlap, differentiated only by the colors and designs of their building, the dress and habit of their people. This literal manifestation of the “wall in the mind” requires one city’s inhabitants to learn to not recognize the other, and vice versa. Border crossing can only take place at the designated border zone at Copula Hall, where emigrants circle back on the same space, but enter into an altered perceptual place. Transgressing this arrangement is punishable by the seemingly otherworldly phenomena of Breach, but it is in exactly this kind of transgression that the story seems to set its motions.
BLDGBLOG: I’m curious to what extent you were hoping to base your work on these sorts of real-life border conditions.
Miéville: The most extreme example of this was something I saw in an article in the Christian Science Monitor, where a couple of poli-sci guys from the State Department or something similar were proposing a solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict. In the case of Jerusalem, they were proposing basically exactly this kind of system, from The City and The City, in that you would have a single urban space in which different citizens are covered by completely different juridical relations and social relations, and in which you would have two overlapping authorities.
I was amazed when I saw this. I think, in a real world sense, it’s completely demented. I don’t think it would work at all, and I don’t think Israel has the slightest intention of trying it.
My intent with The City and The City was, as you say, to derive something hyperbolic and fictional through an exaggeration of the logic of borders, rather than to invent my own magical logic of how borders could be. It was an extrapolation of really quite everyday, quite quotidian, juridical and social aspects of nation-state borders: I combined that with a politicized social filtering, and extrapolated out and exaggerated further on a sociologically plausible basis, eventually taking it to a ridiculous extreme.
But I’m always slightly nervous when people make analogies to things like Palestine because I think there can be a danger of a kind of sympathetic magic: you see two things that are about divided cities and so you think that they must therefore be similar in some way. Whereas, in fact, in a lot of these situations, it seems to me that—and certainly in the question of Palestine—the problem is not one population being unseen, it’s one population being very, very aggressively seen by the armed wing of another population.
In fact, I put those words into Borlu’s mouth in the book, where he says, “This is nothing like Berlin, this is nothing like Jerusalem.” That’s partly just to disavow—because you don’t want to make the book too easy—but it’s also to make a serious point, which is that, obviously, the analogies will occur but sometimes they will obscure as much as they illuminate.
Initial Image via René Fijten
Selected interview via BLDGBLOG.