www.matthewstadler.org

The Internet lacks closure, not in some cloying therapeutic sense, but literally. At every moment a website can be surfed, linked, crawled, or refreshed by any one (or several million) of billions of browsers. The net isn’t “read” like a book, “watched” like a movie, nor “attended” like the theater — it is “browsed.” The word itself suggests a restless, sideways scuttling motion, a distracted kind of snacking without end. Everything else ends — the book closes; the screen goes dark; the curtain falls; the orchestra leaves the stage. But the browser never finishes its meal, never stops, and is never sated. You only need a high-speed connection and a free evening to know exactly the endlessness I mean. But the Internet is also a graveyard. And so, with no curtain to drop, no light to switch off, no cover to shut, a million dead websites simply go on living, like zombies, walking dead whose gnomic blinking java scripts and embedded video signatures go on mimicking the appearance of life, although no life has touched them in years. Nothing is more dead than a dead website. The dead site scrambles time. On this site, for example, it has been October, 2007, for months, if not years, now. Recall the dizzying nausea of returning and returning and returning to a beloved website that has recently gone cold…the fog of death settles into the belly across smaller and smaller increments of time. First, the passing of a week with no new content sounds an alarm; then a day of stasis brings one’s heart into one’s throat; and then each hour, half-hour, ten minutes, and so on, until the habitual pressing of the refresh button becomes at once a serial killing and a cruel resurrection, as the motile facsimile of the dead page is made to walk, over and over again. The net also frustrates closure through one of its greatest features, the embedded link. This troubling device accelerates the disturbing tendency of metaphors to become literal. Where language has always been “linked” — carrying its references with it — the net has literally linked language, exploding the exquisite tension of the metaphor, which was the simultaneous reality and unreality of the reference (like popping the skin of a balloon, because after all, “it is all just air”). I’m fond of endings, in life as well as art. The lack of an ending cripples the entire apparatus of meaning, suspending beauty, like in sex without a climax, or love without end. Art or love gain shape and meaning for me only when they have ended. While love’s endings can be unbearable, the potency of art is that its endings can come again and again, serially, refreshed by endless new beginnings. The web forsakes this essential capacity. Drawn into the web’s morbid shadow play, I kept glimpsing a familiar shade, something called “Matthew Stadler” that perplexed me. This “Matthew Stadler” was very unlike the person I had believed myself to be in life. Rather than fighting the appearance of this phantasm, I was drawn to contribute to it. The vertigo I feel when I witness myself online lacks any moral dimension. I don’t feel violated, or wronged. This flickering “Matthew Stadler” doesn’t look false to me, so much as foreign and strange. It clearly is not about me. So, rather than rail against the growing primacy of the shadow play, I created “Matthew Stadler’s Personal Weblog” as a way to take part in it. I devised a kind of automaton, a machine for producing new texts without the intervening force of my tastes, my authorship, or any real effort whatsoever. In a nutshell, the method was as follows: Texts were solicited by posting calls on the Amazon Mechanical Turk, a bulletin board-style site that offers menial tasks to a large, anonymous audience of users around the world. The tasks are very simple and can be performed quickly at the computer. For example, there are always shapes to identify and pictures to highlight. There are simple data entry tasks. Each one pays very little, usually pennies per task. The site is called the “Mechanical Turk” because it is meant to adumbrate Amazon’s automated help systems with a hidden human component. The “Mechanical Turk” known from history was a hoax, a putative mechanical automaton capable of beating the grand masters at chess. It resembled a Turk. Inside it’s metal shell a real person hid, a talented chess player whose human intelligence drove the actions of the mechanical device. Similarly, Amazon’s “MTurk” embeds human intelligence inside their automated systems, channeling hard-to-solve questions to the bulletin board for hidden human solutions. Anyone can post tasks (called HITs). I regularly posted a request to “write my personal weblog, as me” Since I paid $10/HIT, my HITs were taken and completed swiftly, usually within an hour of posting. I would simply download whatever the Turk sent me and post it on “My Personal Weblog.” This kept the site refreshed and living, without the burden of my authorship. I felt that I had made an elegant engine of group subjectivity, allowing the Internet to compose a personal weblog through a depersonalized system. It delighted me. But I could not help but read the entries (a weakness, perhaps?) and often found them dull and wanting. Most weeks I would be tempted to tart them up, to finesse a detail here, a name there. The purity of my experiment was undermined with every improvement I made to the texts. No longer the unauthored emanations of a great machine, “My Personal Weblog” became as intensely authored and imitative of a solitary person’s intentions as any other site. Why could I not stand the boredom and meaninglessness of these texts? A stronger person would have borne the burden and soldiered on. The cost was not great. But I began to question the rewards. “My Personal Weblog” was meant to accelerate a nascent tendency of the web, which is to blur the precision of authorship by building a web of feedback loops so intense and constant that “authoring” swiftly becomes a matter of channeling 1000 other voices into a kind of ambient hum that is the web speaking to itself. These feedback loops do not require reader comments or email replies. Simply attending to the web, browsing it, inhabiting it, completes the loop. The web is the internal voice that never shuts up, a set of ears that never stops listening. The web is a kind of communal insane person who never stops muttering to himself. I wanted to be a part of that, but I got hung up on myself and kept interrupting the chatter. Until I develop better skills as a listener, I am reverting back to my own authorship and bringing an end to “Matthew Stadler’s Personal Weblog.”

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Climate Justice Fast

In the evenings this week, I’m hosting Portland’s Climate Justice Fast at SEA Change. Visit www.climatejusticefast.org for more info. Below is a video interview I took of one the fasters, Sarah, who belongs to Touching Earth meditation community, www.touchingearth.wordpress.com and helps facilitate Food Not Bombs.

Here is an inspiring video from the Climate Justice Fast website:

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surfing

20091101_2412

surfing with dan attoe's class at short sands on the oregon coast...november 1st and beautiful

20091101_2448

surfing with dan attoe's class at short sands on the oregon coast...november 1st and beautiful

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you’ve got to keep at it

Dr. Cornel West

Dr. Cornel West

“I mean, I’m dealing with the depression of this rejection of the public option. What a joke! You’re going to get a bill through with no substance and poor people left dangling, working people left dangling, and a bonanza for the companies again? If that doesn’t reinforce the levels of cynicism, when you and I give our lives trying to call into question to get people to become active, if that doesn’t reinforce cynicism, what does? When do elites finally have to give substantive concessions to poor people and working people? The history of the human drama, right? Trying to preserve the dignity and decency of poor and working people. And you say to yourself, well, you know, we’ve got to keep—keep at it. “

~ Dr. Cornel West, the celebrated Princeton University professor of religion and African American studies, has just come out with his long-awaited memoir, Brother West: Living and Loving Out Loud. In it, he writes, “Until now, I’ve never taken the time to focus on the inner dynamics of my soul.”

http://www.democracynow.org/2009/9/30/dr_cornel_west_on_his_new

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speak out! avert global catastophe

climate change demonstration in Copenhagen Dec. 12

climate change demonstration in Copenhagen Dec. 12

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creative time

Creative Time Summit - NYC - Oct. 23 + 24

Creative Time Summit - NYC - Oct. 23 + 24

I’m looking forward to attending the Creative Time Summit in NYC! Especially seeing Amy Goodman and the Yes Men speak. I’ll also be rendezvousing with apexart and Smack Mellon while I am there to discuss upcoming exhibits. Fellow social practice folks: Helen Reed, Connie Hockaday, Jason Zimmerman, and Sandy Sampson will be coming on the adventure as well.

Here is my schedule in NYC
arrive – Friday, Oct. 23 6:30am @ Newark

  • Friday ~  6pm-8pm – go to hear a talk by Amy Goodman and the Yes Men.
    • @ New York Public Library, 42nd + 5th
  • Saturday ~ 10am-7:30om – Creative Time Conference

    • @ New York Public Library, 42nd + 5th
  • Sunday ~ 1pm meeting with Smack Mellon

    • 92 Plymouth St., in Brooklyn right on the other side of the Manhattan Bridge
  • Meet up with friends, family
  • Meet up with Ingrid Remak to discuss vermicomposting under the Williamsburg Bridge and other NYC eco-stuff.

leave – Monday, Oct. 26 2pm @ LGA

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free store!

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