Speculative Fiction: process
My artifact is a piece of speculative fiction exploring a possible world in the future and that writing is explored within a theoretical framework of a Computational Art practice
produced by:Gaytri Geeta Roopnarine
Link to written artifact (speculative fiction- Blurred):
Speculative Fiction within a Computational Art Practice: Process and Interpretation
“What will become of the human being in a million years?” (Hottois).
This essay is loosely divided into two parts. In the first section of this essay I analyse my process within a theoretical framework and in the second section I go into greater detail regarding the artefact and its contribution to the theoretical debate and social context of a computational art practice.
My artefact on speculative fiction leads from the work I did previously on emergence and the scaling of the internet. Increasingly, I feel that we are racing towards a future that is uncertain and fraught with dangers: that we are like children playing with gaudy bubbles, discarding them, taking what we want and moving on to the next, our attention span growing fragile as soap bubbles, not looking back at the trail of destruction, the increasing pollution, not even envisioning the future but seeing things as if in a tunnel vision reaching out to the next ephemeral discovery.
The fictional work imagines a future where the non-human and human boundaries are blurred where humans are fitted with interfaces that allows them to work more efficiently for the production line in a world which is exponentially changed by technology. Innovative technology is the norm, technology which come into being, and then are superseded in short time by other discoveries. Deep learning, neural networks, deep dream, nanotechnology etc are terms which are commonplace or outdated.
I wanted to create an artifact that was complex and dynamic but I felt I needed to think about the readers from their perspective and examine how that might influence my process. Historically, stories and narratives were verbose. The length of the narrative was not curtailed drastically as the content drove the shape and form of the writing. With the rise of virtual interfaces, the attention span of readers appeared to be changing: Twitter users are allowed only 150 characters. Facebook posts appear to be on a text ‘treadmill’. Instagram advises its readers that the photos and videos that are shared to the story disappear after the feed and profile unless added as a highlight(Instagram). The world’s largest independent news organisation, the Associated Press, has advised its journalists to keep their stories between 300 and 500 words as readers especially on mobile devices can get turned off by longer stories(Farhi).
In light of this turn to brevity in writing, I felt it would be worthwhile to look closely at how words and their meanings are articulated and that I needed to address the question of what they are and what they do. Michel Foucault has some interesting concepts.
In talking about language, Foucault says one of the most important questions confronting us is shining a spotlight on language itself.
'The whole curiosity of thought now resides in the question, what is language and how can we find a way around it, in order to make it appear in itself, in all its plenitude.’ (qtd. in Oksala}.
This statement by Foucault appears to be in contraction with the pared down guidelines of the newspapers editors. One on hand, Foucault advises that language should appear in ‘all its plenitude’ and on the other hand, we have readers and editors who want pared down writing. However, Foucault does not leave us stranded. He also raises the question of what is language and how we find ways around it to increase its value.
In the Archeology of Knowledge, he presents a method for studying discourse( a rule governed practice of making scientific statements).
“The task consists of not treating discourses as groups of signs (signifying elements referring to contents or representations) but as practices that systematically form the objects of which they speak. Of course discourses are composed of signs, but what they do is more than use these signs to designate things. It is this more that renders them irreducible to language and to speech. It is this ‘more’ that we must reveal and describe” (Foucault, 49).
At the first reading, he seems to be talking about something ephemeral, not easily understandable and then I thought it might relate to the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle who said.
“ The whole is more than the sum of its parts”. (Wiki)
This is another cryptic saying that needs unpacking. An online search clarifies the statement. In Quora, a respected online site, where questions are answered by readers, one response resonates:
“It means that there is such a connection among the individual items that it is better than what each one would be individually. This is known as synergy. (the interaction of elements that when combined produce a total effect that is greater than the sum of the individual elements, contributions, etc.; synergism.)” (Quora)
This led to the idea that the ‘more’ might also relate to the notion of emergence where complex systems might arise from simple systems. By deconstructing Foucault’s idea of the more in language, I had come back to the idea of emergence on which I had worked on previously.
I felt that I was beginning to understand my process of working, to lay the bare bones in plain sight but it appeared to be a convoluted process that folded and refolded onto itself. In the beginning, my writing process was organic and unconfined in the sense that I begin by free-writing, letting my mind roam to discover what I might be thinking and what imaginative threads might feed into the work. However at one point I felt that I needed a compass, a guidance or at least a confirmation of my seeming erratic process. I felt that it might lead to circles without a coherent structure.
Donna Haraway’s attention to complexity and boundary blurring gave room to the imaginative expansion of writing:
“Any interesting being in techno science, like a textbook, molecule, equation, mouse, pipette, bomb, fungus, technician, agitator, or scientist can—and often should—be teased open to show the sticky economic, technical, political, organic, historical, mythic, and textual threads that make up its tissues.” (Haraway,)
Her idea of teasing open to show the sticky threads that make up its tissue was analogous to a dissection of a body part. That a thing consists of many parts, different perspectives and it might be productive to investigate a thing from different perspectives. She illustrates this method in one of the exercises used in her classes.
“To get to the lecture hall we all passed this little shop that sold good coffee and chocolate croissants. … And just as a way of waking up in the morning, I would ask people to unpack objects, to take a chocolate croissant and lead me through flour and chocolate and butter and sugar and coffee and connect us to world histories that way”(qtd in Culanth.org).
Unpacking a thing, looking at its details and in relating it back to its connections and histories is a way of understanding and perhaps getting at the ‘more’ that Foucault discusses above.
In an interview, in which Gilles Deleuze discusses about his unique understanding of the cinema, he approaches the idea of unpacking from a different perspective by talking about classifications. He said that they are like the outline of a book, its vocabulary, its glossary.
“ It’s not the essential thing, which comes next but it’s an indispensable work of preparation”.(qtd in Monoskop.org )
He goes on to give an example of Foucault who was thrilled by Jorge Luis Borges’s Chinese classification of animals belonging to the emperor as being embalmed, domesticated, edible and mermaids. He then clarifies this statement by saying that all classifications belong to this style: they are mobile, modifiable, retroactive, boundless and their criteria vary from style to style but also they involve bringing together things with very different appearance and separating those are very similar. (qtd in Monoskop)
Deleuze addresses the concerns discussed by both Haraway and Foucault. He agrees with the listing and ordering of details as a prerequisite to ‘essentialness’ that Foucault talks about. That in order to get to the ‘more’, one needs to pay attention to connections of a thing especially where they might seem to be dissimilar in the first place.
Claire Colebrook, in “Understanding Deleuze,” says that more than any other thinker of this time, Deleuze’s work is not so much a series of self-contained arguments as it is the formation of a whole new way of thinking and writing.
“A philosophy or form of writing that aims to affirm the mobility of life must itself be mobile, creating all sorts of connections and following new pathways. For this reason there is an almost circular quality to Deleuze’s work: once you understand one term you can understand them all; but you also seem to need to understand all the terms to even begin to understand one “(Colebrook, xviii)
And that :
“Deleuze argued that concepts were complicated in this way: creating ‘new connections for thinking’, opening up whole new ‘planes of thought”(Colebrook, ).
I began to understand that writing was not about restraint, not about the twitter’s limitation to one hundred and fifty characters or the newspapers advice about the brevity of the its articles. It was about ‘new connections’ and ‘new planes’. It was about taking the reader through a door and setting the space for the creation of new connections by unpicking a thing and relating it back to the various contexts that it might inhabit or by classifying a thing by its dissimilarities as Deleuze suggested.
Deleuze and Felix Guattari also argued for ‘rhizomatic’ styles of thinking:
“ Principles of connection and heterogeneity: any part of the rhizome can be connected to anything and must be. This is very different from the tree of root, which plots a point” (Deleuze and Guttari)
They state that there would be not a fixed centre or order so much as a multiplicity of expanding and overlapping connections. They suggested instead of a fixed hierarchical way of thinking as might be illustrated by a tree which grows from a root, which supports the trunk which in turn supports the branches and leaves, thinking might benefit from a rootless structure that allows connections with its various parts and allows for a multiplicity of overlapping ideas.
Foucault, Deleuze and Guttari, and Haraway all talk about something that lies beyond the words themselves, connections to things which at first appearance might appear not to have anything in common but they suggest that the process of teasing apart strands, of unfolding and connecting without a fixed centre might lead to the insights that are not apparent at first sight.
I began to understand that my organic process of writing and allowing connections arise instead of submitting to an overly logical process in the beginning of the writing process might return unexpected access to knowledge about things, I began to realise that Deleuze idea of the fold was relevant to my process of thinking and working, that my process was series of unfolding and refolding on itself. I felt that I didn’t know the shape and form that the writing was going to take when I first began. It was a nebulous feeling as though I was entering a liminal zone where things all things was possible, but where the perspectives of things might be easily skewed if I didn’t pay attention. The process of free writing, research on the internet on the anxieties of today’s technological space and where it might lead us and possible reinterpretation those concerns within a fictional framework became a workable method, a compass of where I was heading to: an unknown, uncharted region.
I also kept a fictional journal when I wrote periodically of some of my concerns and ideas and these journal writings helped me to articulate the shape and form of the final work. The following excepts give an insight into the procedure.
Saturday 3rd March
My writing process has changed. After a mini tutorial during the class break, Helen suggested that I might to think about presenting the artefact in an alternative way, maybe a text to speech or a dramatisation or performance which I could then post to Vimeo or YouTube. While an interesting idea, I have to change my writing process, Reading out a piece of work, a performance action changes the way I need to look at the words. I can no longer be rambling with the words nor can I let the thoughts be diffuse. I have to pay attention to how the words interact with each other, in terms of sound and meaning. I have to think also in terms of a sculptural narrative as well as a fictional narrative.
Saturday 10th March.
I presented my idea to the group tutorial. Isaac suggested that I might use LyreBird site to recreate my voice. After spending an hour recording and recording a number of sentences, the recreated voice sounded artificial. Maybe text to voice is not a good idea but the suggestion made me pay more attention to the words and their shapes and how they interacted with each other. Luke also made a suggestion that maybe I could show the words on the screen in a way which was illegible at first and then becoming legible. A few days later as I was experimenting with data representation for another class and imported a line of text that I could transform, I thought, why not import 2000 words instead of six but I felt that I needed to think articulating a different way of reading that related back to the form of the work instead of just reading it like on e-reader. Then I thought that maybe I can read each word separately that each word had the stage for itself for a moment. Would it be readable? It was, and I found that I did not need to know all the words. I then adjusted the random size of the words between 10 and 150 pixels so the words appeared on the screen in a fixed order but had a random size. At first, it was 0 to 100 and then I thought that I didn’t want words to disappear completely. I also experimented with colour and transparency setting but found they distracted from the meaning of the words. Some of the words were large enough to fill the screen and their edges characters disappeared but it gave an emphasis and created a passage of time which was interesting. Also I found that new meanings could be created and the text could be read like a sculptural poem in the sense that a different , more careful attention was paid to the words which was larger but at the same time this attention from the top layer of the screen representing the larger letters and the bottom of the screen( the smaller letters) allowed for a different user interaction.
Sam Han, in “Navigating Technomedia”, says that in reference to Deleuze’s idea of the fold, he would like to rethink the context of the internet and techno media as spatial modulations and he suggests that modulations are opening and closing of spaces but they are not fully at an open or closed state.
“Therefore the Internet distinctly challenges the ideal of enclosures, characteristic of the spatial logic that was necessary in the industrial capitalism. The Internet marks not only an era of capitalism but also the beginnings of fixity and centerness of space ” (Han, 75).
Therefore one approach of representing techno media or speculative fiction might lie in consideration paid to the transmission of the media in the sense that the work is considered a sculptural form that is portrayed in a way that brings attention in a specific ways to the individual words instead of the words lying on page, each one of them static and confined. In a different format such as the one presented in this artifact, the reading may become less passive and more interactive. The movement, sculptural effect and new meanings might engage readers in alternative reading experiences. However, it is important to point out that this might not be appropriate for longer texts as but in shorter more poetic frameworks and I envisage it presented in a gallery perhaps with other contemporary works.
A blog post on art form and social practice suggests that because speculative fiction tests elements not current in the normal realm, speculative fiction should be read differently than other forms of literature. In the article, the writer cites Darko Suvin, an academic and critic who suggests as science fiction (a subgenera of speculative fiction) discovers elements in the modern world that need refinement and then exposes them as problems and explores where they lead, they serve as a warning or a call to action.(Suvin,hhum )
Patricia Clough states that practices are forms of play with objects in which incomputable probabilities exist within the internal complexity of all objects and that it must be interdisciplinary, speculating with the real in practice and performance. That it will require those that assist in realising ‘unactualised’ but real possibilities. ().
Speculative fiction in terms of computational art practice can serve to articulate concerns of the interaction and effects of technology and artificial intelligence in future. It can serve as a warning or as a call to action by exposing these concerns to the general public by sensitising them to the possible effects. It may envisage a possible unsustainable future and encourages research and social commentary to investigate and articulate these concerns as the work is not entirely based on the imagination but driven by real world facts and events. For instance, recently in the news, Cambridge Analytica, the company ‘that uses data to change audience behaviour’ has come again under scrutiny as Facebook is being investigated in the claim that it might have collected and supplied data information of 50 million users without their knowledge or permission to them (Guardian News). Cambridge Analytica is also implicated in the outcome of the elections of the current president of the United States. Speculative fiction can be a space to imagine and articulate possible future outcomes of these interactions. Within a context such as a computation art practice, one is might able to socially comment and possible create an artistic intervention within the broader and frankly scary world scenarios of manipulation and transformation of humans and their environment without their knowledge. Speculative fiction within the realm of computational arts can be an instance of realising ‘unactualised’ but real possibilities.
Hottois, Gilbert(translated by James A. Lynch) https://www.encyclopedia.com/science/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/technoscience
Farhi Paul, May 12 2014, https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/new-ap-guidelines-keep-it-brief/2014/05/12/f220f902-d9ff-11e3-bda1-9b46b2066796_story.html?utm_term=.1a19e573c7d7
Foucault, Michel quoted in Foucault on Freedom, Johanna Oksala, Cambridge University Press,
Foucault, Michel, Archeology of Knowledge, pg, 49, Pantheon Books, NY, 1972
Aristotle, Wiki https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Aristotle
Haraway, Donna quoted by Aylish Wood Technoscience in Contemporary Film: Beyond Science Fiction, pg 4, Manchester University Press, 2002
Haraway, Donna quoted in https://culanth.org/articles/741-writing-the-implosion-teaching-the-world-one
Deleuze, Gilles, quoted in The Brain is the Screen Deleuze and the Philosophy of the Cinema, ed. Gregory Flaxman, Univ. of Minnesota Press, 2000, https://monoskop.org/images/4/4d/0816634467BrainB.pdf pg 368
Deleuze, Gilles, quoted in Understanding Deleuze, Claire Colebrook, pg xviii, https://seminario2012.files.wordpress.com/2012/02/colebrook-claire-understanding-deleuze.pdf
Deleuze, G and Guttari, Felix, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, Introduction, University of Minnesota Press, 1987 http://composingdigitalmedia.org/digitaliteracy/docs/Deleuze_guat_Rhizome.PDF
Han, Sam Navigating Technomedia: Caught in the Web, pg. 75, https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=snLybjta_UgC&pg=PA73&lpg=PA73&dq=deleuze+fold+internet+of+things&source=bl&ots=BWoVs5JTQJ&sig=_1gWePLassTc5XIPq5eG4_t1p6U&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjD98aOgqTZAhXTasAKHdUKBQQQ6AEIhwEwCQ#v=onepage&q=deleuze%20fold%20internet%20of%20things&f=false
Suvin Darko http://hhumthinkinginpublic.blogspot.co.uk/2014/02/speculative-fiction-art-form-and-social_26.html
Clough, Patricia Ticiento, Computational Aesthetics in The Practices of Art as Politics, Queens College and The Graduate Center CUNY
Guardian News, Cambridge Analytica, https://www.theguardian.com/news/2018/mar/26/the-cambridge-analytica-files-the-story-so-far#img-1
Concept and background research
I wanted to investigate speculative fiction in the light of the scaling of technology and wanted to imaginatively construct a world that might exist in the future. One aspect of my concerns was the pollution of the oceans and the effects that might have on the ecology of the world. I imagined a world which was barren, radioactive, where pockets of humans survive in large pods and where these safe areas are regulated by AI machines.
Donna Haraway’s writing in techno science influenced my process. Gilles Deleuze’s idea of the fold and Deleuze and Guttari's work on rhizomatic thinking influenced my process and thought.
Donna Haraway’s attention to complexity and boundary blurring.“Stories and facts do not naturally keep a respectable distance; indeed, they promiscuously cohabit the same very material places.” (Haraway)
Haraway’s .unpacking things and looking at the connections between them.
“Any interesting being in technoscience, like a textbook, molecule, equation, mouse, pipette, bomb, fungus, technician, agitator, or scientist can—and often should—be teased open to show the sticky economic, technical, political, organic, historical, mythic, and textual threads that make up its tissues” (Haraway)
Deleuze and Guattari arguments for ‘rhizomatic’ styles of thinking in which there would be not a fixed centre or order so much as a multiplicity of expanding and overlapping connections.
The technical difficult involved making a piece of fiction that engaged with concerns that are affecting us now, but doing so in a way which was engaging. I had to find a story and within that framework, talk about things that I am interested in but do so in a way that engaged the readers in an emotional way.
After the piece was written, I had to think of presenting it in away that was alternatively different to how fiction is normally present. After getting some feedback such as, text to voice, performative work and screen based work, I experimented in all three areas and then realised that I needed to showcase the words, needed them to be on the stage, one at a time and engage the reader, perhaps in a more dynamic way.
I used the Processing IDE to create a program that presented the words one at a time on the screen while randomising the size of the words from 10 to 150 pixels. I also experimented with RGB and alpha channels but found the they distracted from the meaning and sculptural effect of the words. White words on a black background was found to be the most effective way of showcasing the words. I then created a Quicktime screen recording and uploaded that on youTube.
Sound could be added to the work. It could also be expanded into a longer piece of speculative fiction which might be publishable.
The screen based work could be shown in a gallery with other contemporary artworks.
I think that the artefact began to work. It could do with more polishing. The theoretical essay could be expanded or maybe it could be more tightly focused as I discussed both the theoretical framework and my process.
I investigated a process of working which is useful for my work in the future, Also thinking about how my process worked, I created a map for my process and also realised that each person has a particular way of working but the important thing is to engage the process and the work and then it moves forward.